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How the Phillies’ Zack Wheeler reached 200 innings after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season

Fifteen pitchers worked at least 200 innings in the 2019 season. This year, only a handful are on pace to reach that mark, with Wheeler becoming the first.

Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler is the first pitcher in the majors this season to reach 200 innings.
Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler is the first pitcher in the majors this season to reach 200 innings.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

For months, officials from every team in baseball wondered and worried about how pitchers’ arms would respond to the rigors of a full season after the 60-game sprint in 2020. It proved to be a legitimate concern. Injuries, particularly among pitchers, spiked this season across the majors.

It’s against that backdrop that Phillies ace Zack Wheeler has had the first 200-inning season of his career.

Wheeler became the first pitcher in baseball this season to reach the 200-inning mark last Friday night in New York. Entering the week, only four other pitchers were within even 20 innings of 200. Compare that with 2019 and 2018, the last two full seasons, when 15 and 13 pitchers, respectively, worked at least 200 innings.

“It kind of surprised me, to be honest, how good I felt this year so far and throughout,” Wheeler said. “I try to go into it with the same mindset year in and year out. You want to go 200 because that’s what you saw growing up, right? That’s always been my goal. This year just happens to be the year. I think people were being more cautious maybe.”

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Wheeler pitched 71 innings in 11 starts last season for the Phillies. In reality, though, he said he worked a lot more than that. In spring training and especially in summer camp before the abbreviated season began in July, he purposely threw 40- to 60-pitch sessions of live batting practice because he wanted to build a workload toward this year. Add it up and Wheeler figures he threw at least 100 to 120 innings off a mound.

“Just a wild guess,” he said. “But I threw a lot.”

Wheeler heard the talk in spring training about how the short season might affect pitchers this year and admitted to being curious if he would be affected. But he also trusted his offseason preparation and in-season conditioning program.

So, while injury-list stints for pitchers are up 50% across the majors this year from 2019 levels, according to the data at Spotrac, Wheeler has made each of his 30 starts. The Phillies have scaled back his pitch count recently, keeping him at fewer than 100 pitches in three of his last four starts. But with at least two and possibly three starts remaining, he could zoom past 220 innings for the season.

By comparison, Toronto’s Jose Berrios was leading the American League with 180 innings entering the week. St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (196 1/3), Miami’s Sandy Alcantara (194 2/3) and Los Angeles’ Walker Buehler (192) were on pace to top 200 innings in the NL.

“I think it was mentioned in spring training, where guys were wondering like, are they going to let us go deep in the games or throw a certain amount of pitches or a certain amount of innings?” Wheeler said. “But that wasn’t a big deal for me. I knew I was going to be ready for this year.”

Fall ball for Stott

Bryson Stott, the Phillies’ 2019 first-round draft pick and top prospect, will continue his season next month in the Arizona Fall League. The 23-year-old infielder batted .299 with 15 home runs and led the farm system in hits (115), doubles (26), on-base percentage (.386), and on-base-plus-slugging (.879) in 102 games between high-A Jersey Shore and double-A Reading.

It’s doubtful Stott will be a consideration for the opening-day roster next season. But he could arrive quickly with a solid start at triple A. He has played primarily shortstop but saw time at second base and third base this season.

“The more positions you play, the better your chances are [of reaching the majors],” said Stott, honored before the game with the Paul Owens Award as the Phillies’ top minor league position player. “You don’t want to be the guy who could only play the one. To be able to play all three infield positions is big. I enjoy moving around to do whatever I can to get here.”

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Jean Cabrera, a 19-year-old right-hander, received the Paul Owens Award on the pitching side after posting a 1.66 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League. Cabrera, whose fastball reaches 97 mph, said he has long admired Wheeler and got to meet the Phillies ace.

“To get this award is very motivating for me to keep working hard,” Cabrera said through a team translator. “I never thought I would see something like this so soon.”

Extra bases

The Phillies reinstated utilityman Luke Williams from the COVID-19 list and optioned outfielder Mickey Moniak to triple-A Lehigh Valley. Moniak went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in only five plate appearances in six games after getting called up Sept. 11. To open a 40-man roster spot for Williams, they designated former Bishop Eustace right-hander Tyler Phillips for assignment. Phillips, 23, had a 6.35 ERA in four appearances for Reading after being claimed off waivers in July from the Texas Rangers. ... Outfielder Travis Jankowski (bruised right foot) ran the bases and could return from the injured list this week, according to manager Joe Girardi. ... With the minor league seasons (except triple A) ending Sunday, the Phillies hosted several prospects for the day, including Stott, pitcher Francisco Morales, catcher Logan O’Hoppe, infielder Luis Garcia, and outfielders Johan Rojas, Jhailyn Ortiz, and Simon Muzziotti. ... Neither the Phillies nor the Orioles have a starter for Tuesday night. Both teams plan on going with a bullpen game.