Notes: Wheeler aiming for slider consistency

February 21st, 2021

Four months after having right middle fingernail surgery, Phillies right-hander said Sunday afternoon he is 100 percent healthy. It marked the second time he had the surgery on the finger; the first came when he was with the Mets a few years back.

The good news is that Wheeler, 30, had two bullpen sessions since reporting to Spring Training and did not have any problems throwing the baseball.

Wheeler had problems with the finger dating back to Sept. 9, when he lost his balance putting on pants, catching his nail on his belt buckle and partially disconnecting it from the nail bed.

Wheeler returned to the mound on Sept. 16 and made his final three starts of the season after missing one turn through the rotation. But he still had fingernail issues, which have bothered him since he was in high school because of how he grips the baseball.

“This is the second time I had the surgery,” Wheeler said. “I had it done once before. This is the new team and I think they kind of wanted to dig in and figure it out as best as they could. That’s basically why we went ahead and did what we did.”

Wheeler is coming off a season in which he went 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 11 starts in his first season with the Phillies.

“What impressed me the most was his consistency and his toughness,” manager Joe Girardi said about Wheeler. “You talk about what he went through with his fingernail, he had the ability to change his repertoire a little bit just because the fingernail irritated certain pitches a little bit more. I was extremely impressed with what Zack did last year. I’ll sign up for the same season.”

Wheeler is not satisfied with the year he had. In fact, he would like to be more consistent with his slider.

“I want to make it more consistent in the zone, make it look like a strike instead of it looking to be a ball every single time, kind of being like a waste pitch,” Wheeler said. “There’s fastball command. That’s really where it starts. Last year I did well with it, but you could always do better. When you get that fastball command, you get ahead of guys early, get quicker outs and go deeper in the game, which is what you want to do.”

Girardi impressed with Harper
In his Zoom session with the media on Sunday, Girardi said he is impressed with Bryce Harper’s work ethic as well as his great relationship with his teammates. Girardi believes Harper is looking to get better every year.

“Bryce is always studying the game and is trying to figure out how to get better,” the skipper said.

Last year, Harper had a slash line of .268/.420/.542 with 13 home runs, 33 RBIs, a .962 OPS and a 157 OPS+ in 58 games. He tweaked his back in late August in Atlanta, and it affected him for the rest of the season. He had a 1.192 OPS through Aug. 22, but that fell to an .827 OPS afterward.

“Health is probably what had him struggle [in the final weeks]. To me, if you look at his first month and he does that over the course of the season because he is healthy, he is going to have a monster year,” Girardi said.

Worth noting
Girardi said he expects first baseman Rhys Hoskins to be ready to play defense once the regular season starts on April 1 against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Hoskins had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow after last season.

“He’ll continue to progress through his rehab. He is doing extremely well. He is taking ground balls. He is going through all his progressions, which is really good,” Girardi said.