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Wheeler's decision still 'playing in my head'

Phillies newcomer's wife expecting couple's first child this month
@ToddZolecki
July 5, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- For the moment, Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler plans to play. He considered the alternative. He needed to. Wheeler’s wife Dominique is due to deliver their first child later this month, which places her in a high-risk group with COVID-19. “Yeah, definitely,” Wheeler said Sunday afternoon on a Zoom

PHILADELPHIA -- For the moment, Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler plans to play.

He considered the alternative. He needed to. Wheeler’s wife Dominique is due to deliver their first child later this month, which places her in a high-risk group with COVID-19.

“Yeah, definitely,” Wheeler said Sunday afternoon on a Zoom call with reporters. “We just have to see how things are here at the field and at the stadium. I'm happy with what I see so far. But things could change, especially once our baby’s born. I always think about what’s going on around me. Is it safe? Is it OK? Literally every single day. I have to just ask myself that. I’m going to continue to keep asking myself that every day.

“It’s a very difficult decision. It’s something that is still playing in my head. I have to be very careful here at the field, outside of the field, wherever I go. The baby’s and Dominique’s health are most important to me. So whatever I can do to make sure they are safe, that is the No. 1 goal for me. Baseball comes after that.”

Opening Day is July 23 or 24. Wheeler’s wife is due about that time. He will take three days of paternity leave. Once he returns, he needs to take a COVID-19 test. If he is cleared to rejoin the team, he will need at least a couple days to throw.

“It’s going to set me back a start or two, more than likely, but that’s just off the top of my head,” Wheeler said. “It’s something that we are definitely going to have to talk about it a little bit further into it and just get that figured out, ironed out.”

Right-hander Aaron Nola has not been in camp, and while the Phillies have offered no explanation why, manager Joe Girardi asked reporters Sunday not to assume a player has tested positive for COVID-19 just because they have not been in camp.

But Girardi acknowledged it is possible that the Phillies could be without their top two starters the first week of the season.

“Oh, I think that’s possible,” Girardi said. “I think it’s unpredictable when you have a due date, exactly when it’s going to come. You’d like to say it’s going to be the 25th, if that’s the date they’re given. But we’ve all been through enough of [this] that it’s not always on the exact date that they predict. As far as Aaron, I think we have to see where he’s at when he gets back with us. There are some concerns because he’s missed the first few days and probably would have thrown a live BP at this point, or at least a couple bullpens. We’ve just got to see where he’s at.”

If Nola is cleared to play, he is expected to pitch. Wheeler’s situation is much different.

“Out there on the mound, in between the lines, that’s my concern,” Wheeler said. “That’s my concern when I’m out there, getting guys out, getting some swings and misses, and just pitching. As soon as I’m done with that, my first thought is, ‘How’s Dominique doing?’ Immediately contacting her and finding out how she’s doing.

“When I first got here, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue or not. But I wanted to get here and see how everything was kind of flowing and what everybody was doing and if guys were being responsible and everything. We’ve got a good group of guys here that I believe are being responsible. I feel safe as of now. I sort of check myself every day and ask myself that question. If I feel like it’s not safe or things are sort of getting out of hand, maybe I’ll think about it a little bit more, but Joe has control of the clubhouse and he’s doing a nice job right now. The training staff is doing a very nice job. They’re working hard keeping everybody safe.”

Wheeler will continue to wear a mask whenever he is in public. He will continue to wash or sanitize his hands, even after he touches baseballs at the ballpark.

“Whatever I can do to keep my family safe, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .