It has been widely assumed that Aaron Nola will make his third straight opening day start when the Phillies begin their shortened 2020 season later this month.
But now you have to wonder if things might be shaping up for Zack Wheeler to make that start.
Nola has not participated in either of the Phillies’ first two workouts since training camp opened — re-opened might be a better way to put it — on Friday.
“He is not here yet,” manager Joe Girardi said Saturday. “We’re trying to work our way through that.”
Nola is said to be working out, throwing, locally. It’s unclear why he has not worked out with the club, though many things are unclear in the age of COVID-19. Girardi is prohibited from discussing anything related specifically to COVID-19.
Center fielder Adam Haseley has also missed the first two workouts. He is also said to be working out locally, away from the team.
Girardi did say Haseley’s absence was “due to a medical condition. We’re trying to work through it and get him here.”
Ditto for non-roster catcher Christian Bethancourt, who, despite being absent from the 60-man player pool, is still part of the organization, according to Girardi.
Already, the Phillies are without pitchers Ranger Suarez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris and second baseman Scott Kingery. All are on a special COVID-19 injured list.
If you’re keeping score at home, the Phillies have yet to see their potential opening day starting pitcher, their second baseman and their center fielder. That’s not exactly good for the strength-up-the-middle philosophy. At least shortstop Didi Gregorius worked out for the first time Saturday. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is in camp and working out, as well.
Given that Nola has been throwing, it’s still possible he could make the opening day start in three weeks. But if he’s delayed much longer getting into camp, Wheeler could jump in. The right-hander threw to hitters on Saturday and his next outing could come in an intrasquad game, according to Girardi. That could put him considerably ahead of Nola.
“I thought he looked pretty good,” Girardi said of Wheeler’s work on Saturday. “I think in a lot of ways, pitchers might be ahead of where they would be in a normal spring training when it comes to the volume, but what they’re missing is having a hitter in there and competing.
“That’s what our concern is about, being sharp and being able to get out of jams and those sorts of things. But I thought he looked pretty good today. His next outing, I’m not sure what it’ll be, if it’ll be another bullpen, a simulated game, or even an intrasquad but he should be able to go further as long as he wakes up and feels good.”
It’s not a given that Wheeler would be the opening day starter if Nola doesn’t get enough time to prepare with the team. Wheeler’s wife is due to give birth around the time of the July 23 or 24 opener. He will leave the team for a few days to be with his wife. But if the birth doesn’t happen until a day or two after opening day, Wheeler could make that start then slip away to be with his family and possibly not even miss a start.
More will be known in the coming days. But Nola’s status is certainly something to keep an eye on.
Meanwhile, another player, former American League Cy Young winner David Price of the Dodgers, opted out of his season on Saturday because of concerns about COVID-19.
Girardi is still confident the season will get off the ground.
Time will tell.
“I think there’s a lot of concern and I think that’s why we continue to educate as much as we can,” he said. “We continue to test every other day, there’s temperature checks a number of times during the day.
“It’s players being socially responsible to themselves, to the people around them, and to their teammates. If you have a symptom, don’t just assume ‘Ah, I have a headache today. It’s normal,’ or ‘I’m sneezing more than normal today. It’s my allergies.’ You have to be completely honest in all of these questionnaires that we fill out or you jeopardize everyone in the room. It is a concern, yes.”
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