Joe Girardi said he did not talk last week to Dave Roberts nor request the Dodgers manager to go easy on Zack Wheeler in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
Instead, Girardi said Roberts -- who managed the National League squad -- used Wheeler for just one batter without any special instructions from the Phillies. Wheeler ended the first half as the major-league leader in innings pitched so a three-pitch night on Tuesday was a welcome respite.
Girardi, when asked if he was pleased with how Wheeler was used, said he was just happy his pitcher got a chance to get in the game.
“I don’t have a problem with him not throwing two innings, I can tell you that,” Girardi said.
Wheeler begins his second half on Sunday against Miami after pitching 1192/3 innings in his first 18 starts of the season. He should reach his career high (1951/3 innings) before September and has already thrown nearly double the innings he pitched in last season’s truncated season.
Pitchers were expected to be challenged this season to navigate a full season after playing just 60 games last summer. Each team anticipated dealing with injuries, which forced the Phillies to preemptively restructure their rotation at times in the first half to find extra rest for their starting pitchers.
They will monitor all of their pitchers in the final three months of the season and they’ll have a close eye on Wheeler. The right-hander did not get a four-day All-Star break like the team’s other pitchers, but he was at least got an easy night in Colorado.
The Phillies are thrilled with how Roberts used Wheeler. They just won’t say it.
“I’m happy that Zack got to do whatever he wanted to do,” pitching coach Caleb Cotham said. “I’m glad he got to pitch. I think he would have been capable for two innings. You want your guys to get a blow, but it is the All Star Game.”
A Phillies pitcher has not led the league in innings since Roy Halladay pitched 2502/3 in 2010. Wheeler won’t match that output, but does Cotham think Wheeler is capable of carrying the workload in the second half that he did in the first half?
“I do,” Cotham said. “It’s kind of a start by start evaluation. His work in between is incredibly consistent. He feels really good. I’m sure we’ll potentially have more conversations, but you’re always keeping tabs on that just in light of last year. So far, he’s been very strong with virtually no hiccups. He’s been one of the best. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think you do what you can and see what happens.”
Wheeler ranks fourth in the National League with a 2.26 ERA and second in strikeouts with 145. If Wheeler matches his first-half production, he’ll be in the conversation to be the team’s first Cy Young Award winner since Halladay in 2010.
“What he’s doing is pretty incredible,” Cotham said. “He’s one of the best pitchers on the planet. It’s fun to watch.”
That race belongs for now to Jacob deGrom, who ended the first half with a 1.08 ERA for the Mets in 15 starts. But the Mets announced Saturday that deGrom has tightness in his right forearm and will not pitch Monday.
It was another reminder of how injuries could soon begin to pile up as pitchers begin to soar past the innings they pitched last summer. So far, the Phillies have kept their top three starters -- Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Zach Eflin -- healthy and are one of just four teams to have three starters log 100 innings.
Eflin, Nola, and Wheeler could all set career-highs this season in innings pitched. Nola started just 12 games last season. Wheeler made 11 and Eflin 10. Entering the season, people either thought pitchers would benefit from last season’s shortened season or be held back this year because of it. If those three set career highs, perhaps it was a benefit.
But the Phillies will still be cautious. And that’s why the Phillies had no issue with Wheeler facing just one batter in Colorado.