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Zack Wheeler exits start with lower back injury


Zack Wheeler exits start with lower back injury

PHILADELPHIA — Perhaps the only thing that can slow the Phillies is themselves.

They activated Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber from the 10-day injured list before Tuesday night’s 10-1 victory over the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. It was a welcome return for two of the most feared hitters in baseball.

“Hopefully, it’s that last little speed bump that we hit,” Schwarber said before the game.

But then Zack Wheeler exited following the fifth inning because of left lower back tightness, while Johan Rojas left following the seventh inning after getting hit in the right forearm with a pitch.

Rojas said he is OK. Wheeler said he hopes to make his next start Sunday against Oakland, but he added that his back has “bothered me here and there a little bit lately.”

Specifically, it has bothered him since he landed hard on the mound late last month at Citizens Bank Park.

“It just tightened up on me then,” he said. “I’ve had to deal with it and treat it here and there. It just tightened up on me a little bit.”

The Phillies have been fortunate that their top four starters — Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez and Cristopher Sánchez — have been healthy this year. But the rotation’s depth has been tested with Taijuan Walker and Spencer Turnbull each on the 15-day injured list. Rookie Michael Mercado made a couple starts recently, but another rookie, Tyler Phillips, will take his place as the No. 5 on Saturday.

Behind Phillips in Triple-A are Max Castillo, Kolby Allard and David Buchanan.

While Wheeler said his goal is to pitch Sunday, if the Phillies believe he could use time to calm his back, they could find somebody else to pitch in the team’s final game before the All-Star break.

They also could adjust the rotation following the break to give him a few more days.

Again, that’s if they feel he needs it. He might not.

“We’ve just got to take it day by day and see how it goes,” Wheeler said.

For a few innings Tuesday, the Phillies were almost at full strength. They went 5-4 while Harper and Schwarber were on the IL. They are 14-12 without J.T. Realmuto, who is expected back from the IL in the first game following the All-Star break.

“It adds depth to [the lineup],” Wheeler said about Harper and Schwarber. “Those guys are two of the best hitters in the league, I think. To have those guys in the lineup is great. Schwarbie came out and did his thing tonight. All the hitters did.”

Schwarber hit first and Harper hit third on Tuesday. The entire lineup pummeled Dodgers right-hander Bobby Miller, who allowed 10 hits and nine runs in four innings.

The Phillies’ 7-8-9 hitters, Brandon Marsh, Rafael Marchán and Rojas, each reached base and scored in the second and fourth innings as the Phillies built a 9-0 lead. Schwarber singled to right-center field in the second to score two runs to make it 3-0. He walked to load the bases in fourth, which led to Trea Turner’s grand slam to make it 8-0.

“That depth is what makes us so good,” Turner said.

Harper went hitless, but he showed he is healthy. He promised before the game to “play smart” before the All-Star break. It meant, “not throwing the cloak on,” he said, referring to being a superhero on the field.

“Just understanding what I need to do to stay in the lineup,” he said.

But when Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman could not catch a line drive hit to him in the first, Harper sprinted down the first-base line. Statcast tracked Harper’s sprint speed at 29.1 feet per second, which is the fastest he has run this season and the fastest he has run since July 15, 2023.

So much for playing it safe.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson played it safe late. He pulled Turner and Harper from the game because the Phils had such a comfortable lead.

Thomson often says he worries more than anything about his players’ health.

The Phillies have overcome injuries to several star players in recent years, including Wheeler, who missed time late in 2022. This year, they have handled injuries to Harper, Schwarber, Turner, Realmuto, Walker and Turnbull well. They have the best record in baseball despite it all, but it doesn’t mean they want to continue to press their luck.

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