Phillies’ Joe Girardi Praises Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler
Phillies manager Joe Girardi is bullish on fellow former New York major leaguers and recent free-agent signings, Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler.
Infielder Didi Gregorius: one year, $14 million.
Right-handed starting pitcher Zack Wheeler: five years, $118 million.
Two former New York major league stars, both now members of the Philadelphia Phillies under another fellow former New Yorker, manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi has nothing but praise for the Phillies’ marquee free-agent signings. He knows Gregorius particularly well already, having managed him on the Yankees for three seasons from 2015 to 2017.
“I just have always loved Didi, not just what he does on the field, because I think that’s special, but what he did in the clubhouse,” Girardi recently told WFAN’s Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts. “I thought that Didi was one of the real leaders in that clubhouse. His personality, people followed, and he had a smile on his face.”
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Under Girardi, Gregorius was faced with the daunting task as being the successor to 20-year veteran and future Hall of Fame shortstop, Derek Jeter. From 2015 to 2017, Gregorius hit .276 with 83 doubles, four triples, 54 home runs, 213 RBI, 15 stolen bases, 77 walks and 237 strikeouts spanning 444 games and 1,745 plate appearances.
In 2019, Gregorius was limited to just 82 games, largely faced with recovery following Tommy John elbow surgery just over a year ago. While he slashed only .238/.276/.441 in 344 plate appearances, Girardi still praises the left-handed hitter:
“This guy played needing Tommy John and no one really even knew about it. He’s tough, too,” he says. “I think the experience of having to replace Derek Jeter helped mold who Didi is today. Because I think in the beginning he tried too hard and realized that’s not working; ‘I got to get back just doing my work and understanding who I am’ … and he blossomed as a player.”
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As much as Girardi is excited about Gregorius, he is just as bullish on the five-year veteran right-hander in Wheeler, who joins the Phillies after going 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA in 126 career starts, all with the New York Mets in 2013-14 and 2017-19.
“We’re really excited, and we thought [Zack] was just starting to come into his own the last couple of years,” Girardi said. “We think there’s even more in there.”
In 2019, Wheeler threw more than 30 starts for just the second time in his career; while he posted just an 11-8 record, he struck out 195 batters and walked just 50.
Like Gregorius, Wheeler also required Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Unfortunately for the right-hander, he missed out on the Mets’ 2015 World Series run, in which they would lose four games to one opposite the Ned Yost-managed Kansas City Royals. Girardi says that following his conversation with Wheeler, he simply “wants to win.”
“Zack wants to win … he talked about that when I had the chance to talk to him before he signed,” Girardi said. “He said he was part of that Mets team, but that he really wasn’t part of that Mets team that went to the World Series because he was hurt. He said, ‘I want to get there and I want to pitch there.'”
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The Phillies have high expectations for Wheeler as to be either the 1A in the starting rotation under ace Aaron Nola. For Girardi and the rest of the Phillies brass, they say they are “really excited to have him.”
GIrardi continues, “He’s a New Jersey kid, him and his wife. We’re really excited to have him … we think about him and [Aaron] Nola at the top, it’s pretty good.”
Opening Day is closer than we think, and the new-look Phillies, with Girarid, Gregorius, Wheeler and others, surely will bring added excitement for the 2020 season.