Phillies Ace Zack Wheeler Returns From Illness, Hopeful to Be Ready For Opening Day

Philadelphia Phillies Zack Wheeler
TAMPA, FL – MARCH 07: Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) delivers a pitch during the MLB Spring Training game between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees on March 7, 2021 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

CLEARWATER, Fla.– Phillies starter Zack Wheeler had his Spring Training regimen derailed a bit when the hard-throwing righty became ill with the flu.

Wheeler, who was the runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award last season, missed three days of camp but was seen back on the mound this week.

Wheeler has yet to participate in a simulated game or live ball but threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session in his return to Clearwater.

Although his absence was brief, having Wheeler back at camp had to be a welcome sight for the Phillies.

Wheeler, who signed a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies in 2020, was otherworldly last season and established himself as the premier workhorse in the Phillies pitching staff.

Last year, his second season with the Phillies, Wheeler posted a 14-10 record, a 2.78 ERA, and 247 strikeouts across 32 starts. As impressive as those numbers are, they still don’t illustrate just how dominant Wheeler was last season.

Through 32 starts, Wheeler had 10 games in which he pitched 7+ innings and allowed one run or less. He had 15 games in which he tossed 5+ innings of one or run less ball.

Wheeler’s WAR of 7.8 was second only to Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani. Oh, and he led the entire National League in strikeouts.

To say the Phillies would be scrambling without a healthy Wheeler would be an understatement. Wheeler is consistent as they come and the Phils will need him to be the engine behind their pitching staff.

Fortunately, it appears that Wheeler seems to be recovering well and is trending toward being ready for Opening Day.

In a discussion with MLB and Phillies insider Todd Zolecki, Phillies manager Joe Girardi said that he wouldn’t rule Wheeler out of the season opener just yet.

Even though Wheeler missed a few days, Girardi could seem him forgoing simulated ball and jumping straight into big-league action on Opening Day.

“I would not eliminate him, because he didn’t really miss anything,” manager Joe Girardi said.

Wheeler added that the team could potentially have a starter relieve him, in case his conditioning doesn’t allow him to go deep into starts.

“That’s obviously up to [the team] because that uses more bullpen guys,” Wheeler said. “But obviously, you can just tag somebody with me for the first couple starts. Maybe another starter and just do it that way.”

If the league allows teams to carry an additional player or two to begin the year, a distinct possibility for this year’s lockout-shortened season, the Phillies could conceivably use those spots to carry an extra starter to complement Wheeler.

Even if extra roster spots aren’t afforded, the Phillies have to be thrilled to have Wheeler back on the mound. As the team ramps up for a big year, they are cautiously optimistic to begin the year with their ace leading the charge.

Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire