As it turns out, there’s more to the story regarding why Zack Wheeler is a bit behind other Philadelphia Phillies starters like Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson at the outset of Spring Training.
Matt Gelb of The Athletic spoke to Wheeler, who said that he’s behind because he experienced some right shoulder soreness in December:
“Just a slower start, really,” Wheeler said of his offseason work. “Honestly. I threw and it was a little sore so I shut it down. Started throwing again and I’m just a little behind because of that. It’s nothing concerning.”
“We had time,” Wheeler said. “I knew we had time, so I wanted to play it safe and make sure I built up like I usually do — like I need to — and just be safe with it.”
Sunday morning, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski informed the collective media in Clearwater about Wheeler being behind schedule.
“One guy that’s a little behind is Wheeler. And really in Wheeler’s situation, [with] the number of innings that he threw last year, he was taking it very easy. He’s here. He’s not off the mound yet, but he’s ready to get off the mound very soon. So he may be a little behind, I’d say that. He’ll hopefully still be ready for the beginning of the season, I would think.”
However, Dombrowski didn’t seem to believe that Wheeler was behind because of any offseason setbacks, but more because after a gigantic workload in 2021, he wanted to be careful as he prepared for a 2022 season that had an uncertain starting date until a few days ago.
“No, it was really more of a situation where for him, he was just slow,” Dombrowski responded when asked if Wheeler had dealt with any offseason injuries. “And apparently — and, of course, I haven’t had this with him before — he is always slow to get ready for the season. That’s just how he is, he doesn’t throw much before he gets here off the mound. I haven’t seen him personally, but the medical reports about him are that everything is fine from a health perspective. He’ll just be in a position where he’s a little bit behind, as far as getting on the mound.”
It’s unclear when Dombrowski became aware that Wheeler had dealt with shoulder soreness in December. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t know that before he spoke with the media Sunday morning.
In any event, it’s a concerning development for the Phillies, or at least it could be. The good news is that currently, Wheeler believes his preseason preparation is “moving in the right direction,” per Gelb.
Wheeler led Major League Baseball with 213 1/3 innings pitched last season, as he made his first All-Star Game appearance and finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting. But it was a drastic increase from the 71 innings that he threw during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Most people around baseball will tell you that you don’t worry about the health of a pitcher as much during the year they are experiencing a major innings increase, but the year after. It’s now the year after.
If Wheeler isn’t ready to be the Opening Day starter for Joe Girardi and the Phillies, so be it. Aaron Nola has started the last four season openers for the Phillies and can certainly do it again. But Wheeler was a top five starting pitcher across baseball in 2021, and if the Phillies want to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011, he’ll need to be a huge part of it.
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