HomeTeamsPhilliesZack Wheeler to Make First Ever Opening Day Start

Zack Wheeler to Make First Ever Opening Day Start

Manager Rob Thompson of the Philadelphia Phillies has named Zack Wheeler as his Opening Day starter. Wheeler will face the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, on March 28. He replaces Aaron Nola who has pitched the opener for the Phillies for six consecutive seasons. Asked about the change, Nola, in his usual laconic style, said, “Wheels should take it. He earned it, man.”

Indeed, Wheeler has earned the call, after four consistently excellent seasons at the top of the Phillies rotation and two dominant performances in the post-season. This will be Wheeler’s first Opening Day assignment ever. “It’s special,” said Wheeler, who recently signed a three-year contract extension worth $126 million, “it’s a pretty cool thing.”

Nola’s six Opening Day starts is tied with lefty Chris Short for the third most in Phillies history. Hall of Famers Steve Carlton (14) and Robin Roberts (12) are ahead of Nola and Short on the list. Curt Schilling opened the season for the Phillies five times. Surprisingly, Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, who toiled six seasons for the Phillies, was the Opening Day starter only once, in 1967. During the lean years from 1937 to 1949, the perennial cellar dwelling Phillies used 13 consecutive different Opening Day starters, everyone from Syl Johnson to Al Gerheauser to Ken Heintzelman.

Wheeler will come into the matchup with the Braves after a strong spring, where he has worked 14 and 1/3 innings, struck out 14, and allowed six hits and two runs for a 1.26 ERA and 0.63 WHIP. The Braves will be a formidable opponent, of course. Their offense features stars like Ronald Acuna, Jr., Austin Riley, Matt Olsen, Marcell Ozuna, and Ozzie Albies. Writing in The Athletic this week, Jim Bowden ranked the Braves offense as the best in the Major Leagues. Spencer Strider, coming off a dominating 20-win 2023 season, will get his first ever Opening Day nod for the Braves.

This opening weekend matchup between the Phillies and Braves will give fans a preview of the two teams that figure to battle it out in the National League East all season. The Phillies hope that improved defense, along with a faster start out of the gate than they had last year will keep them in contention. Their lineup remains little changed from last year, led by established stars Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, J. T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos, along with emerging contributors Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm, and Brandon Marsh. Bowden ranked the Phillies as the fifth best offense in the Majors.

The Braves added lefty Chris Sale to the rotation during spring training and he looks to be healthy and ready to contribute. He’ll join Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Reynaldo Lopez in the Atlanta rotation. The Phillies counter with Wheeler, Nola, Ranger Suarez, Tijuan Walker, and Christopher Sanchez. Both teams feature strong bullpens. The Phillies lost Craig Kimbrell to free agency, while the Braves added veteran Aaron Brummer.

The Phillies may get some added offense from Whit Merrifield, who figures to get a lot of playing time spelling some of the Phillies young outfielders. Meanwhile the Braves just brought back Adam Duvall as an additional right-handed power bat..

The Braves are still very much the team to beat in the National League East. Wheeler and the Phillies will get their chance to set the tone for their challenge to Atlanta’s regular season dominance when the ump cries, “Play Ball,” at 3:05 0n March 28.


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