Phillies ace Zack Wheeler shows off his new pitch in impressive spring training debut

Wheeler has added a splitter to his repertoire and showed it off in his first spring training outing.

Baltimore Orioles v Philadelphia Phillies
Baltimore Orioles v Philadelphia Phillies / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

The past few weeks have been busy for Philadelphia Phillies ace Zack Wheeler. It had been rumored all offseason that the Phillies and their ace were working toward an extension. That apparently came to fruition on Feb. 24. Three days later, the Wheelers welcomed their third child. Then, on Monday, it was announced that the club and pitcher had agreed to terms on a three-year $126 million deal.

The new contract and the addition to the family were not the only differences for Wheeler this spring. The right-hander also added a new pitch to his repertoire — a splitter. He had toyed with the pitch in years past but never heavily relied on it. He has been dominant since joining the Phillies, so why did he feel the need to add a new pitch? The biggest reason is to disarm left-handed hitters.

"I think this could put me over the top and hopefully get a Cy Young," Wheeler said after he debuted the new pitch on Tuesday, per's Todd Zolecki. "That’s what I want to do. If I can take care of lefties, like I do righties, hopefully it’ll take care of itself.”

The Phillies' ace has a point. Last season, right-handed batters hit just .195 against him, while left-handed hitters posted a .261 average. That's a considerable difference. If the new pitch can help to neutralize left-handed hitters, just imagine how much better Wheeler can be.

How did Wheeler's new pitch fare in its debut?

Even though he is learning a new pitch, Wheeler will still mainly rely on his primary pitches — his four-seam fastball and cutter — and mix in the splitter sporadically with his sweeper, curveball, and sinker. In his start against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, Wheeler threw the new pitch just three times.

On those three occasions, one of the splitters missed the zone completely. Two more were thrown in the bottom of the zone and outside to a left-handed hitter. One was fouled off, and the other was whiffed at. Overall, the new pitch got positive reviews from catcher J.T. Realmuto.

“Pretty much everything he throws is angled coming into a lefty, whether it’s the slider, curveball, cutter, even his four-seam cuts a little bit," Realmuto said after the game, per Zolecki. "So everything is coming into a lefty. So something that goes the other direction that takes some pace off is just going to help him.”

Wheeler finished his Grapefruit League debut with four strikeouts, giving up one run through two innings. All in all, it was a successful start for the righty, both in terms of the results and the trial of his new splitter.

Spring training is the perfect time to work on a new pitch. The fact that Wheeler has been as good as he has without a pitch that runs away from left-handed hitters is impressive enough. If he can hone the secondary pitch and use it effectively, Wheeler should be able to continue his dominance and maybe even be better for the Phillies in 2024