Wheeler (forearm tendinitis) on IL stint: 'Right time to do it'
Phillies right-hander expects to return when first eligible on Sept. 6
PHILADELPHIA -- Zack Wheeler expressed minimal concern about the tendinitis in his right forearm that landed him on the 15-day injured list on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters prior to Friday's series opener against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park -- a game he was expected to start until the IL stint was announced on Thursday afternoon -- Wheeler said the move was more precautionary than anything.
"Just the right time to do it," Wheeler said. "I'd rather be strong for the remainder of the season than try to gut it out right now and maybe not have my best stuff. So I think it's the smart thing to do right now."
That's an encouraging sign for a Phillies team that cannot afford to lose its ace for an extended time. The Phils entered Friday just 37 games away from potentially clinching their first postseason berth in more than a decade. They need Wheeler healthy, especially in the postseason.
“He felt, by all means, he could take the ball [Friday] and go out there and pitch,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on Thursday. “But when we talked about it, we also felt that we would much rather knock this thing out and not have him go out there and have him continue to deal with this the rest of the season. So, for us, when we sat in the office today, it was more, well, you know, ‘I can do it.’ But we just think sometimes you have to take it out of the person’s hands. We just think it’s best to shut this down right now.
“I still think there’s a long time to go and I’d rather have Zack Wheeler knock this out … and be in a position where he’s as close to 100 percent as can be at this time of year.”
Dombrowski said he believes Wheeler will miss only his next two scheduled starts, which would have come against the last-place Pirates (47-77 entering Friday) and the D-backs (56-67). Both he and Wheeler are confident that the righty could start Sept. 6 against the Marlins, when he is first eligible to be activated from the IL. (The IL stint is retroactive to Monday.)
Wheeler, who went through his normal routine between starts, including throwing a bullpen session on Wednesday, admitted that he pushed to make Friday's start before acknowledging it was best to try to prevent any issues from lingering down the stretch. He will take a few days off from throwing while getting treatment, but he plans to continue traveling with the club and will start throwing again after "three to five days" in preparation for a Sept. 6 return.
"It's just that time where you can use a little bit of rest also, and play it safe," Wheeler said. "Just be strong for the long road ahead instead of right now."
Wheeler is 11-7 with a 3.07 ERA in 23 starts this season. He was 0-2 with a 7.94 ERA in his last two, allowing 10 runs on 14 hits and five walks in 11 1/3 innings.
The right-hander said he felt it a bit toward the end of his most recent outing on Aug. 20 against the Mets, though he said it was nothing that would have forced him to come out of the game. He added that this is nothing he hasn't dealt with "multiple times" already this year -- and plenty of other times throughout his career.
“I can’t say that it has anything to do with the last two outings,” Dombrowski said. “You get to this time of year with about any player or pitcher, and there is something that’s not 100 percent. I’ve dealt with Zack for a couple years. And just like a lot of guys, he’s dealt with some of these same issues last year. It’s one of those things that pitchers deal with. That’s how I would describe this. He’s been dealing with this as has probably every pitcher on our staff. It’s been one of those over the last little time period that it’s maybe bothered him a little more.”
Wheeler’s four-seam fastball has averaged 95.9 mph this season, down from 97.2 mph last year.
Dombrowski said no MRI exam is scheduled because the Phillies believe they have a handle on the situation.
“He’s just a little tender in an area,” Dombrowski said. “These guys are treated for these things all the time. He might have been treated for this all year long for all I know. All last year, too. It’s not one of these things that just -- boom -- it cropped up out of the blue. It’s been there, just like it has been with a lot of guys. Maybe it’s a little more now.
“He’s not happy. I think he’d rather [have] taken the ball. But he also understands it’s probably the wise thing to do.”