Phillies' list of concerns grows with Wheeler's shaky outing


MIAMI — Ten games into the new season, the Phillies are closer to last place than first place in the National League East. They have lost six of eight games since opening with two straight wins at home. The offense has not produced with any consistency and manager Joe Girardi is already shaking up the lineup as he looks for runs and a dependable leadoff man.

On top of all this, the pitching staff has produced just one quality start, an accomplishment that requires a pitcher to go six innings and hold the opposition to three or fewer earned runs.

The team’s already sizable list of early-season concerns grew Sunday when staff ace Zack Wheeler struggled mightily in an 11-3 loss to the Miami Marlins, who (insert same-ol’, same-ol’ eye roll) took three of four from the Phillies.

Wheeler, runner-up for the NL Cy Young award in 2021, lacked his usual fastball pop and was tagged for eight hits and seven runs in his worst start as a Phillie. He walked three, struck out three and failed to get an out in the fourth inning.

“He had a stinker today,” Girardi said afterward. "He wasn't able to command his sinker and that's a big pitch for him."

“It wasn’t very good,” Wheeler said of his performance.

Wheeler began his season five days earlier by holding the Mets to two hits (one was a homer) and a run over 4 2/3 innings. Surely, that was a nice way to begin the season. But in that outing, Wheeler’s fastball averaged just 95 mph, down 2 miles per hour from its average in 2021. And Sunday, the pitch was down even more to an average of 94.4 mph. For some pitchers, these are crackling numbers.

Not for Wheeler.

In his two starts this season, he has thrown a two- or four-seam fastball 73 times and gotten just two swings and misses.

What’s that telling Wheeler?

“The spin's good on it,” he said. “That kind of stuff checks out. But just the velo itself -- I'm just not sneaking it past guys like I normally would. I just have to start changing eye levels, pitching instead of throwing hard and pitching. I have to figure out just how to pitch a little bit better with that. I know I have the stuff. Just have to do a better job.”

There might be a simple explanation for Wheeler’s dip in velocity and his poor outing Sunday. He had an unusual spring training. The Phillies wanted to take it slow with him because he threw a majors-high 213 1/3 innings last season. That became a little easier to do when Wheeler reported to camp slightly behind schedule after having to slow himself down after feeling some shoulder soreness during personal throwing work in December.

Wheeler’s spring schedule was also thrown off course by a case of the flu and the weather. A rainstorm prevented him from facing the Toronto Blue Jays during the final days of camp so he came into the regular season having only faced minor-league hitters before seeing the Mets last week.

Girardi believes Wheeler is basically still in spring-training mode.

“Power guys, we always talk about, it takes a little longer than nonpower guys and he’s probably feeling the effects of a really short spring training," Girardi said. 

“I just think it’s a lack of innings in spring training, a lack of time. That’s his fourth start. He could still have two more in spring training.”

Wheeler dismissed health concerns.

“I feel fine physically,” he said. 

He was asked if he believed his velocity was down because he’s still essentially in build-up mode.

“I think so,” he said. “Hopefully, that's what it is. I feel fine physically, kind of how I do in the spring, work it up slowly and it comes as you go. So I think, you know, this would be my fourth or fifth start. It's going along the lines of spring. I hate saying that just because I feel like I'm making an excuse. I just have to figure out how to pitch with what I have right now. Just give the team a chance to win.”

Girardi shook up the lineup before the game. Bryce Harper moved from third to second in the batting order and homered. Kyle Schwarber moved from leadoff to the No. 5 spot and homered. But three runs weren’t nearly enough, not with the pitching issuing six walks and hitting four batters.

"We gave them 10 baserunners and I think seven of them scored," Girardi said.

In their three losses in Miami, the Phils scored just seven runs.

Since the start of 2020, the Phillies are 7-14 in Miami.

And they are 4-6 overall on the new season as they head to Denver for three.

"Right now, there’s some inconsistency in our play and that’s kind of biting us," Girardi said.

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