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Zack Wheeler is ready for Opening Day, and the Phillies' ace has a new pitch to play with

Zack Wheeler Philadelphia Phillies contract extension press conference
Zack Wheeler Philadelphia Phillies contract extension press conference 14:01

CLEARWATER, Fla. (CBS) - Zack Wheeler already has a repertoire of pitches he can use in any given start, but the Opening Day starter for the Philadelphia Phillies is working on a new pitch that has been progressing as spring training draws to a close.

Just call it a split-finger. That's what Wheeler is calling his new pitch.

"I never got the split change," Wheeler, who signed a three-year, $126 million contract extension earlier in spring training, said. "The fastball is just a split, whatever the [velocity] is."

Wheeler put that split-finger to the test in his final spring training start before Opening Day. He threw the split-finger six times and got two Detroit Tigers hitters to swing and miss on the pitch. Four of Wheeler's split-fingers were strikes (one was fouled off) and two were balls. Wheeler threw 66 pitches, or used the split-finger 9.1% of the time.

"It's kind of cool to throw different [pitches] at them and see the reaction," Wheeler said. "It's probably safe [to say] if I threw 10 [split-fingers] today, seven were good. I'll take that."

Tommy John Anniversary Future
FILE - Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler throws during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees Monday, March 11, 2024, in Clearwater, Fla. Charlie Neibergall/AP

Whether Wheeler throws it 9.1% of the time during his starts come Thursday is to be determined. Right now, the splitter is just another pitch to have hitters guessing. Last spring, he added a sweeper to his arsenal and ended up throwing it 12% of the time in 2023, according to Statcast.

Wheeler struck out Kerry Carpenter in the second inning Friday and Mark Canha in the fifth inning in the Phillies' 4-3 loss to the Tigers. The split-finger was at 85 mph and 86.1 mph on the swinging strikeouts.

"If the velo difference is there and it's moving one way or the other, hit or miss," Wheeler said. "Like the one I struck out Cahna, I cut it a little bit. But if it's still moving and the velo difference is there, then we'll use it."

Wheeler threw 5 1/3 innings Friday, allowing just one hit with no runs allowed. He struck out five and walked none.

It's safe to say Wheeler is ready for Opening Day. The split-finger will be in the back pocket.

"I might not throw it much during the season, but the plan is to throw it," Wheeler said. "If I can get more swings and misses and it's moving like that, I'll throw it a good bit."

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