Braves’ Wisler aims to ‘battle back this year’

Matt Wisler’s ranking has plummeted the past couple of years in the Braves’ plethora of pitching prospects, but he has looked good early in spring training. 

He threw three scoreless innings in a split-squad game against the Nationals on Thursday, running his scoreless streak for the spring to five innings and showing good command of the slider, which has been an important but erratic pitch for him. 

Wisler knows he doesn’t rate nearly as high among the organization’s pitching prospects as when he was acquired from San Diego in April 2015, the early days of the Braves’ still-in-the-works rebuilding project. But he also knows evaluations of him can change again. 

“The only thing I can do is try to take care of myself,” Wisler said Thursday. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of talented arms here and a lot of good guys, so it’s tough competition. There are some guys obviously ahead of me, as there should be, so for me (the goal is) to try to battle back this year and see what I can produce and see if I can still show that I can be a quality big-league pitcher.” 

Wisler made 19 big-league starts for the Braves in 2015 and 26 in 2016, but last season he had an 8.35 ERA in only 32 1/3 big-league innings (one start and 19 relief appearances). He spent most of the season at Gwinnett. 

He hopes a mechanical adjustment – “trying to stay back a little more” – will help the slider turn his career trajectory around. 

“So far, so good,” he said of his first two exhibition appearances this spring. “Obviously a lot of stuff to build on, but to have two good outings like that is kind of good to get it underway. I’m throwing a lot more strikes. They talked to me early in camp about some of the things they wanted me to change and try to work on. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good feel for most of my pitches right now. 

“Last year was a big problem with hanging (sliders). I never threw one in a bad spot (Thursday), and I got a couple of swing-and-misses on them, which is good, and a weak pop fly. Obviously bad swings and bad contact is what I want off that, and when I know I’m not hanging them it’s always a good sign.” 

Braves bench coach Walt Weiss, who managed Thursday’s game against the Nationals while Brian Snitker was at another split-squad game against the Tigers in Lakeland, liked what he saw from Wisler. The 25-year-old right-hander, getting his second start of the spring, allowed one hit and struck out two in his three innings of work, after throwing two scoreless innings in his previous outing.

“He has had a couple of nice outings,” Weiss said. “He throws his secondary stuff for strikes, looks like he’s got a good feel to pitch. He has made a nice impression so far. … He looks like he’s in a good place.” 

If he keeps it up, Wisler could wind up in the Braves’ opening-day bullpen. 

“I’m just trying to prove myself that I can be a good quality pitcher … and have the team trust me to get outs in the big leagues,” he said.

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