CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Zack Wheeler wore a gray hoodie and sweatpants as he threw on a back field late Sunday morning at Carpenter Complex.
The 2021 National League Cy Young Award runner-up will be in a Phillies uniform on Monday, possibly throwing off a mound for the first time since last season. Wheeler is behind schedule after feeling some soreness in his right shoulder in December following a career-high and MLB-best 213 1/3 innings. But Wheeler said Sunday that he is “feeling good” and that he thinks he can pitch the first week of the season, although the Phillies are not expecting him on Opening Day.
“I haven’t thrown off the mound yet, but I can usually build up pretty quick," Wheeler said. "Throwing feels fine and my arm feels strong, so we’re moving in the right direction.
“I just got off to a slower start throwing-wise. Just a slower start really. 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. 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.”
Phillies manager Joe Girardi said the club always planned for Wheeler to take things slowly entering the offseason, following his jump from 71 innings in the pandemic-shortened 60-game season in 2020.
“It took a toll,” Wheeler said. “But I worked hard this offseason on the strength of my shoulder and my arm and everything, just to keep it strong going into this year and hopefully do the same thing.”
Wheeler said he took no diagnostic testing in the offseason.
Wheeler finished just 10 points behind Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes for the Cy Young Award. It was the closest NL Cy Young vote since the ballot expanded from three pitchers to five in 2010.
In the end, a few more voters were impressed with Burnes’ Majors-leading 2.43 ERA, strikeout rate (35.6 percent), strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.88) and FIP (1.63). But Wheeler made a strong case. He went 14-10 with a 2.78 ERA in 32 starts. He led baseball in innings pitched, complete games (three), shutouts (two), batters faced (849) and Baseball Reference WAR (7.6). He led the NL in strikeouts (247) and finished second in Fangraphs WAR (7.3), FIP (2.59) and xERA (2.78).
Wheeler pitched 46 1/3 more innings than Burnes. Burnes, who averaged 5.96 innings per start, would have needed to make eight more starts just to match Wheeler’s workload.
“Pretty disappointed,” Wheeler said about the vote. “It’s kind of a letdown. You know, innings, I guess that was kind of my pathway to it. Innings don’t always matter but, yeah, I threw a lot of innings, good quality innings, I think that was the biggest thing, they were quality innings. Maybe we didn’t make it to the playoffs and people might look at that, but I went out there and threw a lot of innings every game, only a couple I didn’t, and that’s going to happen throughout the year. I’m not taking anything away from Corbin, but I threw another month than he did, and a lot can happen in a month.”
But if Wheeler gets back on the mound on Monday and makes his first turn through the rotation like he hopes, he hopes to throw another 200-plus innings this year.
“That’s the goal every year,” he said.