Braves catcher Tyler Flowers didn’t have COVID-19, but he was sidelined for the first five games with an unidentified illness.
Flowers, along with co-catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who also was away with symptoms, rejoined the Braves on Wednesday. Flowers made his first start Thursday, going 0-for-2 with a walk. He also threw out Kevin Kiermaier on a stolen-base attempt in the ninth inning, helping the Braves hang on for a 2-1 win over the Rays.
The 34-year-old began experiencing symptoms after playing in the July 21 exhibition game against the Marlins. Flowers said his throat “was feeling funny” after the game, and he suspected something worse was coming.
“We’ve all experienced when you can sense the onset of a sickness coming, and that’s what I was telling them,” Flowers said. “I said, ‘It’s nothing right now, but it feels like something’s coming.’ The next morning, it was a little more uncomfortable. I didn’t have any more symptoms that day.”
In a normal year, Flowers said he would’ve taken drugs and played through the illness. Now, in the pandemic world, there’s no such thing as playing through symptoms. Flowers stayed away from the team despite testing negative.
“With no knowledge of everything we’ve been going through with COVID, I would’ve written it off,” he said. “I’d think I’d have the cold or beginning of flu.”
On July 24, when the Braves opened in New York, Flowers began experiencing body aches. He had a 100-degree fever that evening. “I was a little nervous at that point,” he said. He’d quarantined roughly 36 to 48 hours from his wife and children.
The next morning, Flowers was clear of his fever but his congestion had shifted from his head to his chest. He had body aches throughout the day. He woke up feeling better Sunday, but the aches, congestion and coughing were still present.
After considering rejoining the Braves in Tampa earlier this week, Flowers and the team decided he’d be better off resting in Atlanta.
“My thought was I would intimidate everyone on my team with the way I sounded and if I coughed around somebody,” he said. “With what it sounded like, it was a ‘this guy is about to die’ kind of thing. So we all agreed it probably wasn’t the best idea. … Luckily it worked out well.”
Flowers said he’s felt good since Monday. During his time away from the Braves, he took six COVID-19 tests (three nasal) and came back negative each time.
D’Arnaud, meanwhile, exhibited similar symptoms on an almost identical timeline, according to Flowers. The two stayed in constant communication.
“We had similar symptoms that progressed day by day,” Flowers said. “The body aches lined up for both of us. The congestion shifting from head to chest. The cough coming about. Even the fever was within 24 hours of each other. I’m not really sure how all that transpired. … We were both surprised how similar our symptoms were and how consistent they were day to day.”
The catchers’ experience is another example of how difficult the 2020 season has been and will be. Neither player tested positive, yet because of their symptoms, they required extra caution. The Braves already had four cases of COVID-19 when camp opened, and they’re still in the process of regaining reliever Will Smith, who tested positive at the beginning of the month and wasn’t cleared until last weekend.
In Flowers’ and d’Arnaud’s absences, youngsters Alex Jackson and William Contreras filled in. Jackson went 2-for-7 in three games, while Contreras – who made his major-league debut – went 4-for-10 in four games, including a three-hit night last weekend in New York.
Both players were moved off the 30-man roster when the veterans returned, but Flowers feels the organization should be happy with how the replacements performed.
“First off, I thought they did great,” Flowers said. “From calling the game to handling the emotions of an opening day, even though it’s a different opening day. For those guys, it had to be the biggest opening day of their lives. Hopefully it’s something they can build off of in their future as they progress. I thought they did a great job.
“I didn’t see pitchers shaking left and right. It seemed like they did their homework to be prepared scouting report-wise. Receiving the ball, all those things you want to see. Both of them threw a couple missiles. Made me miss my old arm seeing some of them throw. I was very encouraged. I reached out to each of them a few times throughout that process, just saying I’m here for any questions and reiterating that ‘You’ve got this.’ … I thought they both did a tremendous job.”