After 99 days of MLB lockout, players finally reported to Spring Training over the weekend, and games begin on Thursday. Opening Day is less than a month away (April 7), so close we can almost hear the crack of Bryce Harper’s first home run leaving his bat.
The Philadelphia Phillies‘ Opening Day lineup is very much up in the air, as they currently have no outfielders besides Harper and Matt Vierling, but it’s pretty clear who should be their starting pitcher.
Aaron Nola has been the Phillies’ Opening Day starter for the last four seasons, but no one who watched the 2021 squad would think he’s getting five in a row.
Who will be the Philadelphia Phillies’ Opening Day starting pitcher in 2022?
Being named the Opening Day starting pitcher is an honor, and there’s no doubt that Zack Wheeler has more than earned the Game 1 nod.
It’s not even close.
The righty was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year, and not enough people talked about how dominant he was. He led MLB in innings pitched (213 1/3), complete games (3), shutouts (2), and batters faced (849), and led the National League in strikeouts (247), finishing exactly one strikeout behind American League Cy Young, Robbie Ray. Wheeler was the first pitcher to reach the 200-mark in both innings pitched and strikeouts last year, both new benchmarks for him, as well. His 2.78 ERA was also a new career-best, and his 32 starts tied his personal high.
Factor in how much Wheeler put the pitching staff on his back last year, and his performance becomes even more impressive. The bullpen was beyond disastrous, tying the MLB record of 34 blown saves in a season. Wheeler pitched 7+ innings in 17 of his starts, 6+ in 27 of 32, and 5+ in all but two of his games; he led in complete games because he could, but also because he had to. NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, with the dominant Milwaukee Brewers bullpen behind him, only made 28 starts totaling 167 innings, measly by comparison, thanks to the protection of his pitching compatriots.
It’s also really the least the Phillies can do, considering how little credit and attention Wheeler got snubbed for his performance in 2021. He got snubbed in the All-Star Game so Los Angeles Dodgers manager and NL team manager Dave Roberts could court Max Scherzer ahead of the trade deadline (which paid off), finished runner-up to Burnes for NL Cy Young in a seriously unbalanced race, and then disrespected again in the All-MLB Team announcement.
Dating back to1901, the inaugural season of the American League and beginning of MLB as we know it today, 63 Phillies pitchers have received the honor of being the Opening Day starter. Steve Carlton (14) and Robin Roberts (12) opened the most seasons in franchise history; no other pitcher reached double-digit Opening Day starts. In more recent history, Curt Schilling (5), Brett Myers (3), Roy Halladay (3), and Cole Hamels (2), all opened multiple seasons.
Wheeler has earned the honor of being the #64.
Update: Wheeler likely not ready by Phillies Opening Day
The latest update on Wheeler will make Phillies fans as unhappy as the Odúbel Herrera reunion. According to several reports, Wheeler is throwing but hasn’t thrown off the mound yet. Shoulder soreness delayed his offseason routine, but he says he feels fine now:
"“I haven’t thrown off the mound yet, but I can usually build up pretty quick. Throwing feels fine and my arm feels strong, so we’re moving in the right direction.I just got off to a slower start throwing-wise. Just a slower start really. Honestly, I threw and it was a little sore, so I shut it down. Started throwing again, and I’m just a little behind because of that. It’s nothing concerning. I knew we had time, so I wanted to play it safe and make sure I built up like I usually do, like I need to, and just be safe with it.”"