Zack Wheeler admitted on Friday that the nail on his right middle finger has been a chronic problem since he was a junior in high school. Blisters and fingernail issues are not uncommon for pitchers. Wheeler said he's had the problem addressed by doctors over the years, but he's usually been able to manage it himself.
Even when all is good, Wheeler said, the corner of the nail is slightly raised from the skin, the result of throwing thousands of pitches.
On Wednesday night, Wheeler was pulling on a pair of jeans. He said he stumbled a little bit and caught the raised edge of the fingernail on the waistband. The next thing he knew he was bleeding and now ... you have to wonder if he will pitch again this season.
"Honestly, I don't know," Wheeler said. "I guess we'll wait and see. We're in a playoff run and I'm trying to get back out there and pitch."
Phillies medical officials have consulted with specialists as they wait for the soreness to dissipate from the tip of Wheeler's finger. He is temporarily shut down from throwing and could be shut down for an extended period of time if he loses the nail, which is a possibility.
Wheeler had snagged the troublesome nail on things before, but never this badly.
"It took the nail halfway off," he said. "It's unfortunate and I'm pissed off that it happened. I've had a couple close calls in the past where it almost got caught on things and it scared the crap out of me and the other day, I guess it finally happened.
"My first thought was, 'Man, I let these guys down.' Because I knew we had a lot of games coming up in a short amount of time and we needed innings. And now I'm not going to be able to do that and it really killed me inside. Now, there's nothing much I could do about it. But that's literally the first thing I thought about was, 'Wow, I just let these guys down and that stinks.'"
Before you say, "It's a fingernail, wrap it up and play," know this: A pitcher relies on his fingertips to feel, maneuver and command the baseball. The swelling and tenderness that comes with a blister or ripped fingernail can make throwing with any authority impossible. Trying to pitch through a finger issue can cause a pitcher to alter his mechanics and hurt something else. So the Phils will be very cautious with Wheeler, who has been terrific for them in his first season since signing a five-year, $118 million contract in December. He is 4-0 with a 2.47 ERA in eight starts. The team is 6-2 in those games.
Wheeler was supposed to start Saturday in Miami. That won't happen. Best-case scenario is he starts Monday, but that sounds like a long shot after listening to manager Joe Girardi.
At best, Wheeler will have three starts remaining. And that's if everything goes well and he heals up in a hurry.
At worst, he could miss multiple starts, maybe the rest of what remains in this season. Starting Saturday, the Phils have 18 games left.
The Phillies' starting rotation is already thin and top-heavy. Losing Wheeler could be a major blow to the Phillies' postseason chances.