Should the Phillies Use Zack Wheeler in Relief in Game 7?
It’s do-or-die in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Zack Wheeler needs to be available for Rob Thomson and the Philadelphia Phillies. His team should not have allowed the series to extend this far. However, they must now ask their ace to pick them up with a relief appearance.
Starters in the Bullpen
Wheeler has an opportunity to earn a spot in MLB history with a heroic performance out of the bullpen.
Baseball fans will always remember Madison Bumgarner pitching five shutout innings in relief for the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
The free agent even reminded his former manager Bruce Bochy of the legendary performance with an offer (that might’ve been half-serious?) to pitch for the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the ALCS.
Thomson showed the willingness to use starters out of the bullpen during Philadelphia’s run to the World Series in 2022. Zach Eflin unexpectedly jumped into the closer’s role early in the playoffs. Ranger Suarez, who will start Game 7 against Arizona, closed out Game 5 of the NLCS just two days after throwing five innings as a starter.
Thomson spoke after the stunning Game 6 loss about whether he’d consider using Wheeler in Game 7.
“I would think so. I think it’s going to be all hands on deck.” -Rob Thomson
The Phillies don’t have the most reliable right-handed options out of the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel has struggled in the playoffs. It’s certainly fair to question whether Thomson should use him in a high-leverage situation in Game 7 with the season on the line.
Orion Kerkering hasn’t looked nearly as sharp in his last two appearances, and Seranthony Dominguez has been similarly shaky. Jeff Hoffman has proved himself throughout the season, but he doesn’t have much experience at the back end of the bullpen.
"I think it's going to be all hands on deck."— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) October 24, 2023
Rob Thomson on Zack Wheeler's availability for Game 7: pic.twitter.com/LbuvIouzUs
The Risk of Using Zack Wheeler in Game 7
Thomson’s decision wouldn’t come without risk. Phillies fans will always remember Game 4 of the NLCS in 2010 when Charlie Manuel called on Roy Oswalt out of the bullpen.
Oswalt pitched ⅔ of an inning and took the loss just three days after starting Game 2. The move put the Phillies in a hole down 3-1 against the Giants. They lost the series in six games.
Oswalt was scheduled to throw in between starts the same day that his manager made the call. Tuesday would be Wheeler’s scheduled day to throw in between starts.
Thomson must also consider that Bumgarner pitched in Game 7 of the World Series with an entire offseason ahead of him.
Could Wheeler patch up the hole left by the key right-handers in the Philadelphia bullpen? There’s only one way to find out.