Zack Wheeler’s speed encourages JT Realmuto, Joe Girardi in Phillies loss

The Phillies blew a three-run lead in yet another disappointing loss that brought them to 6-9 on the season, but they can look back on Saturday in a few months as Zack Wheeler eased their worries in the early season in the afternoon.

Despite taking the loss, Wheeler’s stuff was much sharper, and all of his pitches were a cross or two higher on the radar gun.

Wheeler’s fastball averaged 97.2 mph over the last two seasons, but was down to 94.9 in his first two starts in 2022 – still a big number, but far from his elite speed in previous seasons. On Saturday, his fastball was up to 95.9 and he hit 97 a couple of times.

“It was the best we’ve seen from him this year,” said catcher JT Realmuto after the Phillies’ 5-3 loss. “It was just crispier, more of what we saw from him last year. The ball had a little more life on it.

“I think as much as anything else that his last couple of starts were command. His fast ball, he was unable to throw it to strikes in to the right and hit his spots just as well against left-handers as he did in “Just seeing the command to be back to normal is nice for him.”

Wheeler is not only a fastball, but he is a power-pitcher who relies on his warmer in the upper 90s. He consistently sat 98-99 early in the fights in 2020 and 2021, and that speed was a major reason he had an ERA of 1.88 in the first three innings of his 43 starts across those two seasons.

After an abnormal spring training session in which Wheeler did not make Grapefruit League starts and only struck twice against Phillies minor leaguers – April 2 and April 7 – he showed rust out of the gate. This was not unexpected given the shoulder pain he experienced during the winter and the illness that slowed him down in camp.

“To be honest, the fall in velo early on was not so surprising to me,” Realmuto said. “I had a little expectation that it would come. I knew he was getting a late start. I played catch with him during the lockout on the street in tennis shoes in front of my house. I knew he would be behind. He was not able to build properly … I know as the season goes on, he wants it. “

Phillies bet Wheeler into a three-run lead thanks to an RBI double and victim escape from Nick Castellanos and an RBI single from Jean Segura following an Odubel Herrera triple. Wheeler’s afternoon started with four pointless innings, and by the time the fifth inning began, he had pulled 10 in a row.

But things worked out in the fifth inning for various reasons. Two of the hits in the inning were solid – a double by Hunter Renfroe and a line drive from Jace Peterson on a hanging, two-strike curveball. But Wheeler also handled hard luck – he broke Christian Yelich’s bat on a matching single – and was not helped by his defense. In the inning, left field player Kyle Schwarber had momentum, but threw a 10-jumper to the plate in a situation where a good throw could have beaten the runner. And Realmuto threw a ball into midfield on a stolen base attempt with runners on the corners, allowing the man in third place to score.

Wheeler was not happy with the loss, but was encouraged by how he pitched.

“It’s not the result I wanted, but you just have to take the good from it,” he said. “I felt much better today, more synchronized. I made some adjustments in the last bullpen (session) and they showed up in the game. It’s one of those excursions you have to take the good from.

“I’m still building up, just getting stronger and getting things started. They did a good job, but I also made some good pitches. I think that’s why it’s one of the excursions you do. “It’s clearly not the result I wanted, but I’m just trying to build myself up and get that confidence rolling.”

When Wheeler led the league in innings and strikeouts last season, he generated a fluctuating strike of 12.5 percent of his fastballs – one in eight. In his first two starts this year, he threw 73 fast balls and batsmen swung and missed just twice.

On Saturday, the Brewers broke through eight of Wheelers’ 47 fastballs.

“Great improvement,” said manager Joe Girardi. “I think we all saw where his stuff was today. It’s a shame the fifth inning got a little away from him because I thought he threw the ball really well today. His sinks were much better today “I thought his cutter was effective into left-handed batsmen. Pretty much everything.”

Wheeler’s next start will be Thursday afternoon against the Rockies in the final at the Phillies’ home field with seven games. The Phils have been playing matte baseball for nearly two weeks, losing eight of 11 after starting the season 3-1. They appear to be avoiding a fourth loss in a row on Sunday night when Aaron Nola defeats left-hander Eric Lauer.

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