Zack Wheeler’s final start before Major League Baseball’s regular season begins probably didn’t do much to instill confidence.
The righty expected to be the Phillies’ No. 2 starter this season behind Aaron Nola went just 4.1 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, allowing two runs on four hits.
It took him 86 pitches to get there where nearly half of them were out of the strike zone. Wheeler threw just 48 strikes in his outing.
Control has always been a lingering issue in Wheeler’s game dating back to his time with the New York Mets, even though those numbers had improved in recent seasons.
Better MLB pitchers have a strike percentage of at least 65%, which is roughly a 2-to-1 strikes-to-ball ratio.
Wheeler had hit those marks in each of the last two seasons with the Mets, throwing 67% strikes last year and 66% the year before.
In 2017, his first year back from a two-year Tommy John surgery hiatus, Wheeler’s strike percentage was at 63% and was at just 61% in his first two MLB seasons in 2013 and 2014.
Sunday night, Wheeler’s strike percentage was at 55.8%.
Such a concerning performance could be chalked up to all that has happened with the coronavirus outbreak — something that Wheeler is keeping a close eye on with a baby on the way sometime this month.
But it isn’t close to what the Phillies need from Wheeler considering they ponied up $118 million over a five-year contract to lure him away from the division-rival Mets. Granted, this is hardly the kind of season a player who signed a big contract with a new team would want to make his debut with.
MLB’s 60-game season amplifies the performances of every player, especially starting pitchers considering the number of outings are thirded this season.
In Wheeler’s instance, that might not be the best scenario seeing as he is a slow starter.
Through 20 starts last season, Wheeler sported a robust 4.71 ERA before putting up a 4-2 record and a 2.66 ERA over his final 11 outings.
His splits were even more dramatic in 2018 when he canceled out a 3-6 start with a 4.44 ERA over his first 18 starts with a barnstorming finish, going 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA.
This season doesn’t allow the 30-year-old righty to slowly assimilate to life in Philadelphia, which is why Sunday’s start creates some unease.