PHILADELPHIA – No one really knows what Zack Wheeler will be Saturday night in Game 6 of the World Series.
Maybe he doesn’t know either.
But the Phillies hope it’s enough, because they need Wheeler to save their season after losing Thursday night to the Astros, 3-2, in Game 5 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park. Houston leads the best-of-seven series, 3-2, with Games 6 and 7 this weekend at Minute Maid Park. Only eight teams in baseball history have won a best-of-seven World Series by winning Games 6 and (maybe) 7 on the road.
Wheeler is one of the best pitchers in baseball, so there is no one better to help them try to be the ninth. But Wheeler also struggled in Game 2, when he suffered a significant drop in velocity. He didn’t do anything, but he said he was dealing with arm fatigue.
“It’s the end of the season,” Wheeler told reporters Thursday. “Everything is fine, you know what I mean?”
Wheeler threw a light bullpen session Thursday afternoon. He said it went well. But the arm was enough of a concern that the Phillies kept him as their Game 6 starter. They could move him to Game 5, as the Astros did with Justin Verlander, after rain postponed Game 3 on Monday. But Phillies manager Rob Thomson said Wheeler needs more rest.
Wheeler’s fastball dropped from an average of 97 mph in his first postseason start to 95.2 mph in Game 2 at Minute Maid Park, where he allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings.
His fastball is 95.8 mph in the regular season.
Wheeler threw the four-seam fastball just 21.7 percent of the time in Game 2, which was the 8-low mark for his first 200, including the postseason. It was his lowest level since August 13, 2019.
Maybe that sixth day off will help.
“Time will tell,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler missed a month after the season with tendinitis in his right arm. The Phillies have been wary of him since his return. He never threw more than 96 pitches in any start, including the postseason.
Thomson said the Phillies may have moved him up too soon.
“I think that took a toll on him, and I think that’s why you’re seeing the speed drop a little bit,” Thompson said.
Wheeler was asked if Thursday’s bullpen session felt better than the one he threw before Game 2.
“Why are you asking me all these questions?” Wheeler said.
It was a tongue in cheek response. The questions were asked because Game 6 would be one of the most important games in Phillies history. If the Phillies win Game 6, they will force a perfect Game 7.
And Wheeler at 98 mph is a different look than Wheeler at 95, even though he pitched successfully this season at that speed.
“Zack’s a competitor,” Phillies catcher JT Realmuto said. “Even at the beginning of this season, when his velo was not as high as it used to be, he is always competitive. You have what it takes to get the job done. Whether his velo is 98 or not, as long as he has command and can attack the strike zone and work in front of the batsmen, I’m not too worried about the velo. “
It’s anyone’s guess what it will be.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like when I get out there,” Wheeler said.