Phillies: Star players avoiding COVID IL crucial for success

J.T. Realmuto #10, Rhys Hoskins #17, and Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
J.T. Realmuto #10, Rhys Hoskins #17, and Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Phillies cannot afford to lose star players to the COVID-19 Injured List.

Less than one day before the Philadelphia Phillies’ first full-squad workout and three weeks ahead of Opening Day, the team placed four players on the COVID-19 Injured List on Thursday, retroactive to June 30, per The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Breen: utility player Scott Kingery, southpaw reliever Ranger Suarez, as well as right-handed relievers Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris.

Losing these four players at this time is a blow, especially with summer camp getting underway on Friday. Kingery had been poised to assume regular playing time at either second base or the hot corner — with Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura, and Rhys Hoskins manning the other three infield positions.

Suarez was competing for a spot in the Phillies starting rotation and is just one of eight left-handed pitchers in the team’s player pool, joining José Alvarez, Garrett Cleavinger, Cole Irvin, Damon Jones, Francisco Liriano, Adam Morgan, and JoJo Romero.

Meanwhile, the Phillies were going to rely on Hunter and Neris as back-end bullpen pieces — in a season where their roles are more crucial than ever, as starting pitchers are not expected to throw deep into games.

Players can be added to the COVID list if they test positive, show symptoms, or have contact with someone infected. Kingery, Suarez, Hunter and Neris’ placement on the list does not mean they will be sidelined for long, but there is a protocol for them to follow in order to return, notes the Delaware News Journal’s Martin Frank:

  • Self-quarantine for 14 days
  • Test negative for COVID twice in a row, which can take at least four days
  • Be seen by a doctor.

Add the dates together, and players could miss at least three weeks when placed on the COVID-19 IL this season. Girardi was asked on Thursday if he thinks the Phillies’ four COVID IL players will not be ready for the season opener; he replied that he thinks “you have to look at all possibilities.”

The Phillies cannot afford to lose their star players, such as Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Gregorius, among others, in this way.

Imagine the Phillies being in the thick of the race for the National League East crown in early September. Say, for example, Harper learns through tracing that he came into contact with someone infected with COVID. He is then asked to quarantine, and may not return at all before the season concludes. His absence in the lineup in a pennant chase would be extremely detrimental.

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The same can be said for starting pitchers such as Nola and Wheeler. Not having them to shut down potent NL and AL East teams, for example, would be a significant loss. The Phillies will play the Tampa Bay Rays in the final series of the season, likely September 25-27, at Tropicana Field; with the race expected to be close, those games could make or break a postseason berth.

Not to mention, even if players do return from the COVID IL as soon as possible, the likely will not be doing much during their quarantine period to stay MLB-ready if they are sick.

Frank writes:

"Girardi said he has told his players to be vigilant about the coronavirus in “numerous conversations” over the past several weeks in Zoom calls. It’s a message he’ll reiterate Friday when the Phillies begin their workouts both at Citizens Bank Park and at FDR Park, albeit in small groups for social distancing purposes."

It is great baseball is back. Hopefully, as many players active in the Phillies player pool can stay as healthy as possible during these unprecedented times. If they can, expect a season where the team remains in contention for its first taste of Red October since 2011.