Zack Wheeler hits 98 mph on the gun as Phillies target a Wednesday return

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Zack Wheeler hits 98 mph on the gun as Phillies target a Wednesday return originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

ATLANTA – The Phillies are targeting Wednesday night for Zack Wheeler’s return to the starting rotation.

Wheeler’s fastball reached 98 mph in a simulated game Friday afternoon.

“Felt good,” the right-hander said.

“It looked really good,” manager Rob Thomson added.

Thomson held off on officially declaring that Wheeler would start Wednesday night against Toronto at Citizens Bank Park because he and the staff wanted to see how the pitcher felt on Saturday, the day after his most intense work since going on the disabled list last month with inflammation in his right elbow/forearm.

If Wheeler does indeed take the mound Wednesday night, he would have three starts before the end of the regular season and be able to start Game 1 of the postseason on regular rest.

“I just want to make the playoffs,” Wheeler said. “Whoever starts, I couldn’t care less. We have lots of good options.”

Tuesday will mark one month since Wheeler’s last start. By the time he returns, he will have missed five starts. When he first went on the injured list, he came across as unworried and predicted he’d miss just two starts. Turns out, he feared missing more time than that and jeopardizing his readiness for the playoffs.

“It kind of worried me how late this happened,” he said. “But it’s nice to feel good and be back on the right track.”

Wheeler has never appeared in a postseason game. In fact, he’s never been to one. He made 32 starts for the Mets in 2014 but was hurt in 2015, the year that club ran through the playoffs and made the World Series. Wheeler said he was not allowed to be with the club for the postseason.

Who knows, maybe this year he’ll get to pitch against the Mets in the postseason.

“It’ll be a tough team whoever we face,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Wheeler’s workload will be watched closely when he returns. He threw about 55 pitches between his warmup and the simulated game Friday. Something in that neighborhood might work in his first game back.

“It’ll be shorter at the beginning,” Wheeler said. “As long as I’m at 90 pitches and seven innings by the time the playoffs roll around I’ll be fine.”

Still to be determined is who comes out of the rotation when Wheeler returns. Bailey Falter has pitched well in Wheeler’s absence with the team winning all four starts. He will go again on Sunday. It’s not out of the question that he stays in the rotation after that. Noah Syndergaard has allowed 30 hits and 15 earned runs in 22 innings over his last in his four starts so the Phillies could ponder a move there.

INJURY UPDATES

The Phils lost a valuable utility man when infielder Edmundo Sosa was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain. He injured himself while running the bases Thursday night in Miami.

Sosa’s injury comes as Rhys Hoskins was out of the lineup for a second straight game Friday with a right hand contusion, suffered when he was hit by a pitch Wednesday. Hoskins said the goal was to play this weekend, but nothing is certain. The Phils do not believe the injury will require a trip to the IL. Nonetheless, with Hoskins and Sosa down, the team is short at the corner infield spots. Yairo Munoz was recalled from Triple A. He started at third base Friday night against the Braves while Alec Bohm played first base.

Right fielder Nick Castellanos remains on the injured list with an oblique strain. He’s about to ramp up his swinging program, but Thomson said there’s no timetable for his return. Rookie Dalton Guthrie started in right field as Thomson got some extra right-handed bats in the lineup against Atlanta lefty Max Fried. Matt Vierling started in center in place of lefty-hitting Brandon Marsh, who had four hits Thursday night.

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