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July 29, 2020

Matt Klentak: Outbreak in Clearwater gave Phillies 'head start' for handling COVID-19 threat

The Phillies have their hands full dealing with the Marlins COVID-19 outbreak

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Matt-Klentak_120419_usat Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak speaks with members of the media during general managers meetings at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia.

The Phillies got pretty darn unlucky last weekend, and it had nothing to do with them dropping two of three games in their opening series against the Marlins.

What can only be identified as an outbreak occurred among the Miami roster (and included some staffers) as reports say that 17 people tested positive in the opposing locker room.

Which means that the Phillies will now have to contend with (at least) five days off before taking the field again.

"We've had two starters who weren't even able to make their first turn through the rotation yet," Phillies GM Matt Klentak told a group of local media members Wednesday. "We are going to do everything we can to stage some workouts in a safe and staggered fashion to help some guys to stay in shape and we will be ready to roll as best as possible on Saturday."

On Saturday, nearly a week since Vince Velasquez got roughed up in a 11-6 loss Sunday, the Phillies will be thrown into the fire again with a double header at home against the Blue Jays as the away team.

What a weird baseball season it's been already.

"Coming into this summer season, we all recognize this season was going to present a lot of challenges and all parties involved, players, teams are going to need to be flexible," Klentak said. "It's one thing to say that at the beginning of the season, it's another to contend with it as it's happening in real time which is what the Phillies and league are facing this week."

The Phillies, more than any other team save for the Marlins, have gotten the brunt of the weirdness and uncertainty, but ironically they seem to have been well-equipped to handle this problem. Every Phillies player has tested negative twice since Sunday night's game, according to Klentak, and Major League Baseball has reported no cases for non Miami players this week. That's not just luck — the Phillies have taken every precaution to make it so.

"I feel really good about the way that the Phillies players and staff have followed protocol," Klentak said. "Just because you feel good about something that's happened in the past doesn't mean you can take your foot off the gas... in some respects having gone through our own outbreak in Clearwater in June, that may have helped us to prepare for what's going on now because we had the opportunity up close to see how quickly something can [happen] and to implement some of these more restrictive protocols."

"I don't know what the alternative may have been, but we may have had some kind of a head start."

As prepared as the Phillies have been to handle the health complications, there is no way any team could be prepared for the super flux of scheduling that has already "postponed" four of their games and likely will see a bevy of changes coming in the next few days. After hosting the Jays (as the away team) Saturday and Sunday, the Phillies right now are scheduled to play the Marlins in Miami. 

Klentak couldn't confirm definitively, but it sounds pretty clear that trip will not be happening.

"Right now what we are planning on is a doubleheader against Toronto on Saturday and a single header on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, from there there are still questions about next week's schedule," Klentak said. "The league is handling that process but I think it is very possible we have a different opponent next week." 

"I know that the league is on top of that very issue, about the safety of teams going into Miami right now and they are working on it and we are preparing for our schedule to be altered next week."

Could that opponent be the Yankees, whom they were supposed to play four times this week?

That suspicion was more or less confirmed by the Yankees later Wednesday afternoon.

The Phillies are also contending with other ridiculously complicated and tricky factors, many of which involve how they can protect themselves from their own outbreak.

"We don't want our catchers, for example, sitting next to or even near each other on a bus or a train," Klentak said, revealing some of the unseen complications of dealing with potential contract tracing for COVID-19. "We don't want our entire infield sitting near each other, we don't want our rotation on the same bus. If someone does test positive, you don't want to find yourself in a situation where your entire starting infield or starting rotation is out for a long period." 

"We are trying to stagger the seating chart which is very new for a major league traveling party. They're not used to being told where and with who they can sit next to."

Wouldn't it be nice to have everyone inside a bubble, like the NHL and NBA are (so far) successfully implementing?

Will the Phillies' fourth and fifth starters Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin — neither of whom has pitched yet — be ready to go wherever that series takes place?

There are a seemingly endless number of questions as the muddle of this chaotic baseball season, still just a week old, continues to enfold. 

"I don't dispute that this layoff this week has created a lot of challenges for us on the field, off the field, the administrative burden on a lot of people, the uncertainty on the players — the players aren't playing baseball right now and they're used to playing almost daily, now we are going to have five days off, we are going to ramp it up with two games on Saturday that presents it's own health risk, maybe not COVID but orthopedic. Coming into the year were knew there were be challenges, we anticipated there would be positive cases and bumps in the road and we would all as an industry have to get through them." 

"We are all going to have to be a little flexible."

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