PHILADELPHIA – Phillie’s officials spent much of Sunday morning huddled in manager Joe Girardi’s office in Citizens Bank Park. Inside, they discussed an unwelcome roster plan crunch and the many ways they could handle it.
Both Zack Wheeler andZach Eflinhas been placed on the COVID-19 injury list, which is reserved for players who either test positive, show symptoms of COVID-19, or have been identified as close contacts to a person with the virus. None of them travel with the team to Seattle after Sunday’s doubleheader against the Mets, leaving the Phillies without two-fifths of their rotation.
There’s never a good time for this, but it’s coming as the Phillies begin a seven-game road trip against the Mariners and Dodgers. The Phillies are covered by starting pitching through Tuesday. Right-handed player Kyle Gibson and left-handed player Cristopher Sánchez were to pitch Sunday’s doubleheader in Philadelphia, while left-handed player Ranger Suárez and right-handed player Aaron Nola will start on Monday and Tuesday against the Mariners, respectively.
The Phillies have no one scheduled to start Wednesday in Seattle or Thursday in Los Angeles unless Eflin or Wheeler (or both) are approved before then.
“I hope so,” Girardi said.
A vaccinated player on COVID-19 IL must receive permission from the Major League Baseballs Joint COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee to be reinstated. This can happen as soon as the player is no longer considered contagious. Unvaccinated players cannot return until they have submitted two negative PCR tests.
Eflin was on COVID-19 IL last season, and MLB.com reported at the time that he was fully vaccinated. Wheeler’s vaccination status is unclear.
“We’ll find out,” Girardi said. “One of them could be back. We just have to wait and see what happens.”
Phillies are limited to replacements on the 40-man roster unless they want to promote someone and risk losing another one through dispensations. If the Phillies had three players on COVID-19 IL, they could summon someone who was not on 40-man without the risk of losing another.
At this point, the most likely internal opportunity for one of those two spots is left-hander Bailey Falter, who opened the season with the team before returning to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to build arm strength as a starter.
Sánchez may be back, depending on how much he pitches on Sunday. He was the team’s 27th man for the double-headed, so he could replace right-handers Francisco Morales or Connor Brogdon. Morales and Brogdon took the seats for Eflin and Wheeler.
“At some point, you’re going to use a lot of your bullpen,” Girardi said. “We do not necessarily have many people built up.”