December 3, 2022

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Despite short ramp-up, Wheeler solid in season debut

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PHILADELPHIA — The NL Cy Young runner-up is fine. 

They will hit eventually. Everybody expects that.

But there was some uncertainty entering Zack Wheeler’s 2022 debut on Tuesday. He had not pitched in a Grapefruit League game this spring, because he came to camp behind schedule. He experienced soreness in his right shoulder in December, following a career-high and MLB-best 213 1/3 innings pitched last season. He pitched in only a pair of intrasquad games against Phillies prospects in Clearwater, Fla., before he faced the Mets.

Wheeler hit two batters and walked one in a 27-pitch first inning. He escaped without allowing a run. 

“I think I was just getting my feet under me,” he said. 

Wheeler settled, allowing just one run in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out three and limited the walks to one. He threw 65 pitches.

“He got better as the game went on,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s still developing arm strength.”

Wheeler made a mistake to Brandon Nimmo in the fifth, throwing a 2-1 changeup over the middle of the plate.

Nimmo smacked the pitch to right field for a solo home run.

“It probably wasn’t the best idea, it’s probably my fifth-best pitch,” Wheeler said. “I hung it the at-bat before, and he hit a line drive to second base. It’s probably not the best pitch. I hung it again, and he made me pay for it.”

Initially, the Phillies planned for Wheeler’s night to end after he faced James McCann in the fifth, but he retired the first two batters on just two pitches, so he faced Nimmo.

“It’s really special off Zack,” Nimmo said. “He’s been a thorn in our side ever since he left. He’s such a great pitcher. You want to compete against the best, and you want to do well against the best, and he is one of the best. Very special to do it against Zack.”

Wheeler’s start completed the Phillies’ first turn through the rotation. Phillies starters posted a 2.96 ERA in five games, striking out 24 and walking four in 24 1/3 innings.

“A lot of strikes,” Wheeler said. “That’s big, right? Just getting ahead of guys. Throwing strikes. It allows you to go deeper in the games and save the bullpen guys. Yeah, I mean, that was our goal coming in — pound the zone and be aggressive. We’ve got a lot of good pitchers here that can pound the zone and pitch that way. That’s our game plan.”

The Phillies entered Spring Training with the rotation considered its strength. It got overshadowed, however, once they added Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to the lineup.

Castellanos has been impressed.

“So far so good, man,” he said.

Does his close-up look at the group make him feel any better about the Phillies’ chances this season?

“I mean, we have a good ballclub, man,” Castellanos said. “From top to bottom. But talking about what could happen or what should happen is kind of pointless, man. Right? Like, we either do it or we don’t.”

The loudest cheers of the night came in the eighth inning when Alec Bohm got a standing ovation from a good number of Phillies fans. He had a rough night on Monday, which included an apology for some words he said that were caught on TV.

“Oh, fantastic,” Castellanos said. “Everything that I’ve been led to believe about Philadelphia, that was the exact opposite. That was incredible. So, I mean, hats off to the city of Philadelphia for having their player’s back like that. It’s incredible.”

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