SARASOTA, Fla. – If Matt Wisler has a consistent slider like the one he showed Tuesday night against the Orioles, the Braves’ young right-hander could be poised for big things in his first full major league season.
Wisler was charged with three runs, three walks and three hits including a pair of home runs in a 4-4, 10-inning tie. But it was his four strikeouts during the fourth and fifth innings, including a few against some of Baltimore’s top hitters, that were intriguing.
In his final spring-training start, Wisler gave up two solo homers and three walks in the first three innings without recording a strikeout. But then he turned things up, striking out Pedro Alvarez and J.J. Hardy to start a perfect fourth inning, and striking out Manny Machado and Matt Wieters to end a perfect fifth.
He struck out Alvarez and Hardy on sliders and Machado and Wieters on fastballs.
“That four and fifth inning, that’s probably the best I’ve thrown all year,” Wisler said. “So to have that kind of feel right now I’m happy with it. Just kind of keep that consistent going forward, staying aggressive with everything.”
Wisler said it was a conversation with pitching coach Roger McDowell that made a difference in the slider.
“First couple of innings it wasn’t very effective,” he said. “Roger could see it, he told me after the second or third inning that on my off-speed pitches I was coming out non-aggressive, that you could kind of see my body would slow down a bit. I just wasn’t getting through it the same as I was my fastball.
“I think that’s why those guys were taking most of my off-speed pitches or putting pretty good swings on them. As the game went on I got more aggressive with it. Better bite to it, sharper, tougher to see out of the hand. So as the game went on I felt a lot better.”
Wisler will begin the season as the Braves’ No. 3 starter and make his debut in an April 8 series opener against the Cardinals at Turner Field. He’ll pitch in a minor league game Sunday in Florida, a day after the Braves leave spring training, so he doesn’t go 10 days without facing hitters.
Wisler was replaced after a leadoff double by Adam Jones in the sixth, and Jones scored the third of Wisler’s runs when Mark Trumbo hit a one-out single that minor league third baseman Brandon Snyder didn’t handle.
It wasn’t that Wisler was tired; he went to the bullpen and threw another 20 pitches after he came out. The Braves only replaced him when they did because they wanted to see more of left-hander Kyle Kinman, a 25-year-old minor leaguer who has impressed in three solid Grapefruit League appearances when brought over from minor league camp.
The Braves are looking hard to find another lefty for the bullpen, whether it be from outside the organization or within.
Kinman got three outs in three batters, including ground outs from both lefties he faced, Davis and Alvarez, who hit into an inning-ending double play after Trumbo’s ground-ball hit that probably should have been caught by minor league third baseman Brandon Snyder.
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