After crisp bullpen, Wheeler closer to return

September 14th, 2022

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had some pep in his step Tuesday afternoon in Miami at loanDepot park.

He threw 30 pitches in his first legit bullpen sessions since he landed on the 15-day injured list on Aug. 25 with right forearm tendinitis. It went well; Wheeler worked out of the windup and stretch, located his pitches for strikes and had good life on his fastball -- at least according to interim manager Rob Thomson and the way it sounded as the smack of the ball hitting the catcher's mitt traveled to the press box.

Wheeler threw everything in the session, including his curveball.

“It’s a good sign,” he said. It’s an even better sign that Wheeler has not felt anything in his elbow for at least the past week.

So what’s next? Wheeler is scheduled to throw an up-down bullpen session or a live BP on Friday afternoon in Atlanta. If it goes well, he could start as early as Sept. 20 against the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park.

If Wheeler is available by then, he could make three regular-season starts before the postseason:

  • Sept. 20 vs. Toronto
  • Sept. 25 vs. Atlanta
  • Oct. 1 vs. Washington

If the Phillies take care of business and clinch the second or third NL Wild Card, Wheeler would be lined up to make his fourth start in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series on Oct. 7. Even if Wheeler does not start until Sept. 21 or 22, he could then make three regular-season starts and still pitch Game 1 or 2 of the NLWCS.

If the Phillies’ rotation remains on turn the rest of the way, is scheduled to pitch the final game of the regular season on Oct. 5 in Houston. If Philadelphia doesn’t need to win that game, Nola would line up to pitch Game 1 or 2 (whichever game Wheeler does not start).

The Phils have been hoping to line up their rotation that way for months.

“It’s huge,” Thomson said about Wheeler’s potential return. “When he’s right, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. He gives the entire club confidence when he takes the mound.

“Every time Zack takes the mound, I expect us to win.”

Expect Wheeler to slowly build arm strength in those first couple starts back, much like he did at the beginning of the season. Remember, Wheeler came to Spring Training behind schedule because of a right shoulder issue. He then missed a couple days because of the flu.

Wheeler struggled in his first three starts before he hit his stride in his fourth. He expects to be more effective this time.

“I would think so,” Wheeler said. “Time will tell, but I would think so.”