Zack Wheeler kicks off 2022 season debut for Phillies

Zack Wheeler shrugged off first-inning rust to finish nearly five innings in an economical start to the season. It was an almost goalless outing.

Wheeler pitched 4⅔ innings, not allowing a run until he gave up a solo shot to Brandon Nimmo, the last batter he faced. He threw 65 pitches, coming out for fifth after throwing 59. He picked up two quick outs before Nimmo lined one up in the right field seats to give the Mets a 1-0 lead.

There was a lot of attention in Wheeler’s first regular season start, as he didn’t face major league hitters at all in spring training. He was slowed down in camp by illness and ended up pitching in one game, an intrasquad game against the minor league Phillies on April 2. He was scheduled to face the Blue Jays that day, but the plan changed as heavy rain was forecast. .

When the Phils wrapped up their spring training schedule, Wheeler stayed on to face the batters in Clearwater the following day, April 7.

“All the guys had somewhat unusual journeys, but his was the weirdest,” manager Joe Girardi said before the game. “He caught the flu in spring training, was out for three days, was suspended. He hasn’t necessarily started a real game yet, but there are a lot of teams dealing with that. “

Wheeler struck out three and allowed just two hits — Nimmo’s home run and a Pete Alonso single in the fourth inning. His fastball averaged 95 mph in the first competitive game he pitched in 196 days.

Wheeler hit two batters on a laborious 27-pitch first inning, but blocked bases loaded with a Robinson Cano three-pitch strikeout.

From there, Wheeler locked in, needing just 37 pitches to record his final 12 strikeouts from Cano thanks to Nimmo’s homer.

“He threw a great game,” Girardi said. “I’m watching him as he got better as the game went on and still building his arm strength. It’s really like his third start to spring training.”

Wheeler would have started for the Phillies on Opening Day had he not been late. He nearly won the National League’s Cy Young Award in 2021, finishing second in voting to Corbin Burnes, who had better rate stats but a much smaller workload. Burnes had 139 fewer outs than Wheeler.

A cycle through, the Phillies’ starting rotation has a 2.96 ERA and .78 WHIP with 24 strikeouts and four walks in 24⅓ innings.

“Lots of strikes. Just getting ahead of the guys,” Wheeler said. “That’s our goal, just beat the zone, be aggressive. We’ve got a lot of good pitchers who can pitch that way.”

Wheeler is lining up to make his next start on Sunday in Miami.

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