The Phillies have rearranged their starting pitching rotation with an eye toward optimizing their use of ace Zack Wheeler during the final week of the season.
Wheeler had been scheduled to pitch Sunday in Miami. That game will now be filled by the bullpen. Wheeler will move back a day and start the first game of a series opener against NL Central leader Milwaukee on Monday afternoon.
Wheeler will get an extra day of rest before that start and that can't hurt as he has carried a heavy load this season and leads the majors with 182⅔ innings pitched. The move does not change his number of starts for the rest of the season. He would have made six more regardless of the move.
Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson will follow Wheeler in the series in Milwaukee.
The Phillies will then come home for four games against Colorado. Barring a change, Ranger Suarez, a fifth starter, Wheeler and Nola would pitch in that series.
Including Sunday's game in Miami, the Phils need a fifth starter six times over the final weeks of the season. It's very possible that the Phils will employ a cast of relievers in those games, with Matt Moore being one of them. Vince Velasquez has been pitching on minor-league injury rehab. It's not clear if he will figure into the mix in the final weeks of the season.
The Phils entered Saturday trailing the Atlanta Braves by two games in the NL East with 28 to play. By rearranging Wheeler's schedule, the Phillies have set themselves up to have the right-hander face the Braves in the first game of what could be a huge three-game series September 28 in Atlanta. Nola and Gibson would follow Wheeler in that series.
After Atlanta, the Phils would move on to Miami for the final three games of the regular season. Suarez would line up to pitch that series opener, followed by the fifth spot. Wheeler could start the final game of the regular season, which could be a difference-maker for getting to the postseason. If the Phils have already locked up a postseason berth by then, he could be held back for Game 1 of the postseason.
There's still a lot of baseball left, but that's the way things shape up at the moment as the Phillies try to break a nine-year playoff drought.