PHILADELPHIA -- Zack Wheeler’s final pitch in his Phillies debut Saturday provided another example why the organization pursued him so earnestly this offseason and why so many teams considered him the best starter on the market behind Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.
Wheeler had a runner on first and two outs in the seventh against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. He had a 3-2 count on Garrett Cooper. He needed to make a big pitch to protect a two-run lead. He fired a 97.5 mph fastball up and over the outer half of the plate. Cooper swung and missed to end the inning.
Wheeler dominated in the 7-1 victory, allowing five hits, one run and two walks in seven innings. He struck out four. He induced four inning-ending double plays. He threw only 87 pitches.
“The other day when I faced the Orioles, I was all out of sync,” Wheeler said, referring to Sunday’s exhibition start. “I had a lot of other stuff on my mind. I felt a lot better today. More in sync, the timing and everything.”
It has been quite a week for Wheeler. His wife Dominique gave birth Monday night to their son Wesley. Mother and son are healthy. After a couple nights in the hospital, the Wheelers returned home Wednesday. He threw off a mound Thursday, played catch Friday and declared himself ready to roll against Miami.
He got help. Phil Gosselin enjoyed the first multihomer game of his career, hitting a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth and a solo homer in the eighth. Gosselin, who batted eighth as the designated hitter, finished Summer Camp on a tear, becoming the final player to make the 30-man roster. He carried his torrid hitting into the season.
“It’s been awesome,” Gosselin said. “I was hoping to make the team out of camp. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle and I’d really have to play well and force their hand a little, and I was able to do that. I’m really happy that [manager] Joe [Girardi] gave me a start early on to keep it rolling.”
But Saturday provided a nice peek at what the Phillies expect to see throughout the season and the remainder of the five-year, $118 million contract that Wheeler signed in December. Wheeler has overpowering four-seam and two-seam fastballs. His four-seam fastball averaged 96.8 mph. No Phillies pitcher had fastball velocity like that in a start since B.J. Rosenberg (96.9 mph) on Oct. 2, 2012.
“I was actually talking to a couple guys in the dugout after that seventh inning,” Realmuto said about Wheeler’s final pitch of the day. “I was like, 'Man, when you have a starter that can throw fastballs like that and just pound guys in with fastballs, it just opens up the whole playbook so much more.' I have so much confidence calling that pitch in him because it’s such a good pitch. To see him throwing that hard in the seventh inning is really refreshing.”
“It must be nice to have 96, 97 [mph] in your back pocket all the time as a pitcher,” said Girardi, who enjoyed his first win with his new team. "It's a luxury. He's extremely blessed. He used it very well today. He used both fastballs extremely well. He spotted them extremely well. He pitched down in the zone. The fact that he's that strong in his first start is impressive to me.”
Wheeler also has a slider, changeup and curveball, with the latter possibly being his best offspeed pitch. He threw only eight to the Marlins. He didn’t need it much, it turned out.
Afterward, Wheeler got a game ball for Wesley. It capped a momentous week.