Wheeler Erratic In Final Tune-Up, More Notes From Phils-Orioles

PHOTO CREDIT: BILL STREICHER-USA TODAY SPORTS

A night after Aaron Nola dominated the defending world champs and Bryce Harper pissed on a baseball down in Washington, the Phillies returned to Citizens Bank Park to kickoff (and finish) their home exhibition schedule.

After a 294-day wait since the last time the Phillies hosted an opponent in South Philly, Zack Wheeler took the ball, looking to replicate Nola’s mastery. That didn’t quite happen in Wheeler’s up-and-down start–one that came during a fairly listless 4-1 Phils loss to the Orioles. Or was it a 5-1 loss? Thank God for that top half of the 10th inning.

Anything goes at summer camp 2020!

Still, it was just good to see baseball back on television, wasn’t it? I just hope that you didn’t smash yours after this:

Some Good, Some Bad From Wheeler In Final Tune-up

Indeed, Nola all but solidified his status as the Phillies’ Opening Day starter after five stellar innings of one-hit baseball on Saturday night. Wheeler, however, wasn’t quite as sharp on Sunday night as he consistently battled command issues and ran up his pitch count while only going 3.2 IP (which was credited as 4.1 IP).

Wheeler, who often spiked his breaking stuff throughout the night, allowed four hits while striking out four and walking one in his four-plus innings of work. He also hit a batter. His biggest mistake of the night came on an elevated 3-1 fastball that Baltimore’s Pedro Severino took out to right field.

It wasn’t all bad for Wheeler. He was able to finish Orioles hitters with a variety of pitches. Here he is getting Chris Davis in the first inning with an elevated 96 mph fastball:

An inning later, Wheeler put away Pat Valaika with this curveball. As I noted in the tweet, Valaika had no shot:

Wheeler also recorded strikeouts with his slider and changeup.

Still, his performance wasn’t exactly a model of efficiency. In fact, it had, dare I say, a vintage Vince Velasquez feel to it. Wheeler needed at least 19 pitches to complete each frame, except in the fifth when he faced a single batter. He also ran eight different three-ball counts.

An inning-by-inning breakdown:

  • First: 19 pitches, 10 strikes, 3 outs
  • Second: 19 pitches, 12 strikes, 3 outs
  • Third: 20 pitches, 11 strikes, 3 outs
  • Fourth: 18 pitches, 8 strikes, 1 out (exhibition summer camp baseball special)
  • Fifth:  10 pitches, 7 strikes, 1 out

“His breaking ball wasn’t as sharp tonight, but I thought he battled through it,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.

Despite Wheeler’s command issues, his velocity remained strong as he neared the end of his 86-pitch effort, nipping 96 mph against his final batter.

The big-picture outlook is promising. He should be available, assuming he’s in Philadelphia next week as he awaits the birth of his first child, for somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 pitches in his Phillies regular season debut.

Scenes From A Weird Citizens Bank Park

I know the empty blue seats provide awkward optics from the couch, but the view also requires an adjustment from the in-stadium perspective. Here’s Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker getting the crowd of, well, zero, fired up:

Meanwhile, last week, Rhys Hoskins talked about social distancing on the field and what that might look like when a runner reaches first base. Seems he’s rolling with the mask, at least for now.

Bats Left In D.C.

On Saturday night, the Phillies’ offense was highlighted by a pair of blasts from Didi Gregorius and Bryce Harper. On Sunday night, it was highlighted by eight scattered hits, including a weak 1 for 6 with RISP, and 11 strikeouts.

For awhile, it looked like after waiting 294 days to play an opponent at Citizens Bank Park that the Phillies would have to wait at least 299 days to plate a run against one. Mercifully, Andrew McCutchen helped scratch a single run across in the seventh with a two-out RBI single.

Bohm Update

Alec Bohm entered the game late for Rhys Hoskins at first base and promptly hit into a routine 6-4-3 double play.

People ask me about my early impressions of Bohm quite often. On a positive note, I love his willingness to use all fields, and from a statistical standpoint, he’s been fairly productive in both the Clearwater and Philadelphia camps. However, he’s just not driving the ball with much authority right now. Ideally, that’s something you want to see with some consistency from a corner infielder.

Bohm, who almost certainly won’t be on the Opening Day roster, might find himself getting some innings at first, if and when he’s called up. Without an obvious entry point into what looks like a deep lineup (Sunday night’s effort aside), Girardi will have to get creative in order to get him some at-bats.

Either way, I would caution against anyone banking on a breakout shortened season from the team’s top position prospect.

Quick Notes

  • Vince Velasquez will start tomorrow against the Yankees.
  • Jake Arrieta will throw again on Wednesday. Certainly, it doesn’t seem as if there’s much urgency to have Arrieta go against Miami in the opening series.
  • If Wheeler has to leave the team, it is possible that Velasquez could start the Saturday game against the Marlins. For what it’s worth, Velasquez had a 7.06 ERA across 21.2 IP in five starts against Miami last season.
  • Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen won’t play against New York.
  • Some players will be sent Allentown on Wednesday, which means several roster moves are coming soon.
  • Girardi said there’s “no issue” for Roman Quinn after he was hit by a pitch against the Nationals. He is expected to play Monday night.
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