The Phillies placed closer Corey Knebel on the COVID-related injured list Tuesday, a day after Knebel was unavailable in their 5-4 comeback win because of what manager Joe Girardi described as flu-like symptoms.
Knebel, who was not in the bullpen Monday night, feels better Tuesday than he did Monday, Girardi said, and the team still thought as of Tuesday afternoon that he had the flu. An initial COVID test did not return a positive result, but the Phillies are awaiting the results of a second saliva test that Knebel took Monday.
"He just has the flu, we think," Girardi said Tuesday afternoon. "We're waiting for a couple of tests. He does feel better today than he did yesterday but we'll have to wait for this last test. It's the saliva test that we have to clear, that goes out to a lab."
If that test comes back negative, Knebel would be eligible to return right away. In his absence Monday, the Phillies turned to left-hander Brad Hand, one of their many relievers with closing experience. Jeurys Familia, Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez have also done the job at points. Hand pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning and looked good doing it, spotting his fastball on the outside corner and throwing his slider for strikes.
If Knebel does have to miss more than a couple of days, Girardi said the Phillies would mix and match at closer based on who is due up. Two lefties -- Dom Smith and Brandon Nimmo -- batted in the ninth inning Monday. Had it been three consecutive righties, the Phils may have used Familia.
Taking Knebel's place on the Phillies' active roster is South Jersey native Jeff Singer, who got the call Tuesday morning he'd been waiting for his whole life: He was being called up to the big leagues by the team he grew up rooting for.
Singer, who had "40 or 50 or more" family and friends in attendance Tuesday night, used the word surreal to describe his day.
"Kinda just caught me off guard, it's very early in the season," he said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet for me. You know there's gonna be moves throughout the year but I just didn't think it was going to be this early, especially for me. I don't really know what to say. I have a lot of friends and family here and we're all really excited. It's going to be a fun experience. Right now I'm just really thinking about the moment."
The left-handed reliever, who graduated from Holy Cross Academy in Delran before pitching at Monmouth and Rutgers-Camden, had pitched four scoreless innings at Triple A in two appearances this season.
Lefties Cristopher Sanchez and Bailey Falter are in play to follow Zack Wheeler Tuesday after what's expected to be an abbreviated start, and Hand could be required to close, so it doesn't hurt to have another lefty in the 'pen. Singer is the sixth left-handed reliever on the Phillies' active roster, along with Hand, Sanchez, Falter, Alvarado and Damon Jones. Because Singer is replacing a player the Phillies placed on the COVID IL, they're able to bring him up even though he is not on the 40-man roster.
"I've just got to stick with my strengths and take it one moment at a time if I get in there," he said.
The 28-year-old Singer has an interesting story. He never gave up on his dream and continued to pitch in the Rancocas Valley men's baseball league in Burlington County while making ends meet by working at a car dealership in Northeast Philly. He pitched well enough in the Rancocas Valley league to land a spot with the Camden Riversharks, then eventually a minor-league deal with the Phillies in 2015.
Singer climbed the minor-league ladder with excellent seasons at Class A Lakewood in 2016 and High A Clearwater in 2017. He was even better in 2019 at Double A Reading, where he went 7-0 with a 2.34 ERA and struck out 74 in 61⅔ innings.
"We think that he'll handle the situation. He's been in spring training with us a number of times, he can give us multiple innings if we need it," Girardi said. "It's a neat story, he's from here. I'm sure he'll be leading the pass list tonight. Good for him."
Check out more of Singer's story here.