Zack Wheeler’s speed down, Phillies lose series to Marlins

MIAMI — Ten games into the new season, the Phillies are closer to last place than first in the National League East. They have lost six of eight games since opening with two straight wins at home. The attack has failed to produce consistency and manager Joe Girardi is already shaking up the lineup as he searches for points and a reliable point guard.

On top of all that, the pitching team produced just one quality start, a feat that requires a pitcher to go six innings and keep the opposition to three earned runs or less.

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

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

“He had a stink today,” Girardi said afterwards. “He wasn’t able to command his lead and that’s a big throw for him.”

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

Wheeler started his season five days early by holding the Mets to two hits (one was a home run) and a run in 4 2/3 innings. Surely it was a great way to start the season. But on that outing, Wheeler’s fastball averaged just 95 mph, down 2 miles per hour from his 2021 average. And on Sunday, the pitch dropped again to an average of 94, 4mph. For some pitchers, those are crackling numbers.

Not for Wheeler.

In his two starts this season, he threw a two- or four-seam fastball 73 times and got just two hits and missed.

What does that tell Wheeler?

“The rotation is good,” he said. “That stuff checks out. But just the bike itself – I don’t race it past the guys like I normally would. I just have to start changing eye level, throwing instead of throwing hard and throwing. I have to figure out how to pitch a little better with this. I know I have the trick. I just have to do a better job.

There could be a simple explanation for Wheeler’s dip in speed and poor outing on Sunday. He had an unusual spring training. The Phillies wanted to take it easy on him because he pitched a record 213 1/3 innings last season. That got a little easier to do when Wheeler showed up to camp slightly late after having to slow down after experiencing shoulder pain during personal pitching work in December.

Wheeler’s spring schedule was also upended by a case of the flu and the weather. A rainstorm kept him out of action against the Toronto Blue Jays during the final days of camp, so he entered the regular season having faced only minor league hitters before seeing the Mets last week.

Girardi thinks Wheeler is still in spring training mode.

“Power guys, we always talk about that, it takes a bit longer than non-power guys and he’s probably feeling the effects of very short spring training,” Girardi said.

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

Wheeler dismissed health issues.

“I feel good physically,” he said.

He was asked if he believed his speed was down because he was still basically in buildup mode.

“I think so,” he said. “I hope that’s it. I feel good physically, a bit like I do in the spring, work it slowly and it comes as you go. So I think, you know, that would be my fourth or fifth start. It goes in the direction of spring. I hate to say 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 first to fifth and homered. But three runs weren’t enough, not with the pitcher who walked six and hit four batters.

“We gave them 10 base runners and I think seven of them scored,” Girardi said.

In their three losses to Miami, the Phils have scored just seven points.

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

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

“Right now there are inconsistencies in our game and it’s eating away at us a bit,” Girardi said.

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