To the fault of absolutely nobody, uncertainty is the thing surrounding the Phillies in the early days of the team’s summer reboot at Citizens Bank Park.
There is uncertainty over the status of players missing from camp. There is uncertainty among the players about how to interact and engage with teammates. There is also uncertainty about the longterm availability of Zack Wheeler, who signed a 5-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies last December.
Wheeler admitted after Sunday afternoon’s workout that he does not know what his immediate future holds. For now, Wheeler is in camp and on track to begin the season with his new team in less than three weeks, but the situation remains fluid.
Wheeler and his wife, Dominique, are expecting their first child in the coming weeks. The 30-year-old, who is penciled in behind Aaron Nola as the No. 2 starter, discussed with reporters the difficulty he faces in balancing work with his family’s safety.
“It’s a very difficult decision, something that I still play in my head,” Wheeler said. “I’ve gotta be very careful here at the field, outside of the field—wherever I go. The baby’s and Dominique’s health is most important to me, so whatever I can do to make sure they’re safe, that’s the number one goal for me. Baseball comes after that.”
Wheeler also admitted he was initially unsure about exposing himself to the health risks of camp but has been pleased with the protocols in place:
When I first got here, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue or not. I wanted to get here and see how everything was kind of flowing and what everybody was doing. Everybody is being responsible, basically. We’ve got a good group of guys here that I believe are being responsible. I feel safe, as of now. I check myself everyday and ask myself that question, so if I feel like it’s not safe or things are sort of getting out of hand, maybe I will think about it a little bit more. But Joe has control of the clubhouse, and he’s doing a nice job right now. The training staff is doing a very nice job. They’re working hard keeping everybody safe.
Assuming his stance doesn’t change, Wheeler figures that he will miss a start or two when his wife gives birth. Under a best-case scenario, a brief absence will still give the Phillies between 22-25 starts from Wheeler and Nola. However, with Nola still missing from camp for undisclosed reasons, that best-case scenario feels increasingly unlikely to play out.
Wheeler says he plans to discuss the situation with the team as things progress.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for some good news, Wheeler is on track to be ready from a physical standpoint. While it is widely expected that several starters around the league will operate with restricted pitch counts early on, Wheeler, who may be tagged as the Phillies’ Opening Day starter, didn’t seem too concerned about such limits.
A self-described slow starter, he stayed ready by throwing regularly, eventually stretching himself out to 80 pitches while facing live batters during workouts in Georgia.
So, there’s that, which is nice.
Still, the Phillies face a myriad of questions about the state of their pitching. This reality likely explains why manager Joe Girardi told reporters last week that he’s drawing up three different rotations to account for all possibilities. Given the early developments of this camp, he’s going to need the depth and an adaptable plan.
Typically, early camp questions are answered as the days move on, but in a summer like no other around Major League Baseball, the questions–and the uncertainty–continue to grow by the day.