Sign J.T.? Zack Wheeler will happily cast a vote for that.
It has been only two starts — with 10 days in between, no less — but Wheeler has already developed a solid rapport with Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto. Maybe it’s because the right-hander has long wondered what it might be like to pitch to him someday.
“Playing against him all these years, I was wishing that he was my catcher, and now he is,” Wheeler said Wednesday night after improving to 2-0 in his first two starts since signing the third-largest free-agent contract in Phillies history last winter. “That was a part of me coming over here. I love throwing to him.”
Manager Joe Girardi has picked up on that vibe. Girardi could have paired Realmuto with Aaron Nola in the first of two seven-inning games against the Yankees. Instead, he gave the ball to Wheeler and had Nola work with backup catcher Andrew Knapp in the nightcap.
The result: After giving up an unearned run in the first inning and a two-run home run to Brett Gardner in the second, Wheeler gave up only two more hits over the next four innings.
Wheeler felt strong enough to come out for the seventh, too. But as he did with Jake Arrieta on Monday night in New York, Girardi took the decision out of his pitcher’s hands. Given the Phillies’ weeklong layoff last week, he determined that 87 pitches were enough.
"I felt fine personally, but that's not my call. It's Joe's call," Wheeler said. "Simple as that."
Wheeler acknowledged he was “kind of worried coming into the game” because his most recent bullpen session was less than stellar. The Phillies were able to work out at Citizens Bank Park only three days last week while they awaited results of daily COVID-19 tests after the Miami Marlins’ outbreak in Philadelphia.
But Wheeler said there’s comfort in pitching to Realmuto, whose future with the Phillies has become a prime topic of conversation with free agency looming after the season. Bryce Harper has been vocal about wanting the club to re-sign Realmuto. Wheeler is ready to stump for him, too.
“First off, he can call a game, and that’s what you need back there,” Wheeler said. “And then he’s a great receiver. He’s one of the best in the game at that.”
Wheeler and Girardi said they support Major League Baseball’s decision to shorten doubleheaders to seven-inning games in order to lessen the time that players must spend at the ballpark and allow for additional rest while trying to cram 60 games into two months.
“I think all of us probably like it a little bit,” Girardi said. “Just because I think there are being so many things tested right now from a physical standpoint that I think two nine-inning games would be extremely difficult.”
But while Girardi said he would be in favor of keeping doubleheaders to seven-inning games beyond this season, Wheeler is decidedly against it.
“I don’t think so, no,” he said.
Active rosters must be trimmed from 30 players to 28 Thursday. For the Phillies, who have played only six games in 14 days, that meant assigning reliever Enyel De Los Santos and outfielder Kyle Garlick to their alternate training site in Lehigh Valley.
“I think if we only play once a week we’ll be fine,” Girardi said with a laugh. “No, I think we’ll be OK. If you get a little bit short one day, you can probably make some moves to make sure you’re OK.”