The joke told to Matt Wisler was that his slider was similar to Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t go that far,” Wisler said with a snort, “but I throw it about as much as he threw his cutter. So why not?”
Wisler then chuckled. He’s nowhere near to being as dominant and as unhittable as Rivera was for years with his cutter, but the Twins have encouraged Wisler to throw his primary weapon, the slider, over and over … and then some more.
Wisler is finding a way to stand out among his fellow major league relievers by throwing his slider a ridiculous 81.3% of the time, the most of any pitcher, according to Statcast. The next player on the list, San Diego’s Taylor Williams, throws his slider 54% of the time.
Wisler has thrown 222 sliders and 50 fastballs. Many pitchers spread out their arsenals more evenly, some might have more lopsided usage patterns.
Then there are pitchers like Wisler.
Of the 222 sliders Wisler has thrown, only one has been barreled, a home run by Kansas City’s Ryan McBroom on Aug. 7. In 16 innings over 10 games, Wisler is 0-1 with a 1.08 ERA. He has been the “opener” for the Twins three times — a role the righthander might play in Friday’s doubleheader with the Tigers — and got his first save in Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over the White Sox.
“The one thing why I think my slider is so effective, talking to catchers, it doesn’t move the same,” Wisler said. “One pitch it will go straight down and the other one goes more side to side. I have a lot of different movements on my pitch. I don’t do anything different that I can feel.”
Late to the plate
There were seasons in which Rivera threw his cut fastball more than 90% of the time, and he was able to influence how it moved by using his fingers to change the pressure he put on the ball.
“Sometimes I can manipulate it, but I just throw it and sometimes it spins differently and I think that’s what makes it more effective,” Wisler said of his slider. “You just don’t know what it is going to do. I don’t know what it is going to do so they don’t know what it’s going to do.”
Sliders come in all shapes and sizes. Wisler’s looks and moves differently than the ones thrown by teammates Kenta Maeda and Sergio Romo. Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson pointed out that Wisler has excellent late life on his slider that neutralizes hitters.
“Matt Wisler has tremendous vertical depth up and down and he has late movement on that,” Johnson said. “As we know, the later the movement, the better the pitch. I should say, the better the chance you have for more swings and misses. And that’s what Matt has with his slider.”
Off the scrap heap
Wisler, 27, broke in the majors with Atlanta in 2015. He made 45 starts over two seasons there but could not stick in the rotation. In 2018, he was part of a package sent to Cincinnati for Adam Duvall. The next spring, he was designated for assignment and dealt to San Diego. By July, he was DFA’d again and dealt to Seattle for cash considerations.
The Twins picked him up off waivers from the Mariners last October because they believed his slider could be a useful tool. Even though Wisler had a 5.61 ERA between the Padres and Mariners last season, he struck out 11.0 batters per nine innings. Something is there, they thought.
“When they saw that during the offseason and [claimed] Matt, I was ecstatic once I got to look at his information,” Johnson said. “I thought if we can get this guy in the right roles and do some different things with him, he had a chance to really help us out. So far he has.”
Getting some help
On Tuesday against the White Sox, he notched his second save of his career when he set down Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Nomar Mazara in order. His only other save came in 2016 with the Braves, and he had to go through Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton to get that one.
Jake Cave collided with the wall as he caught Mazara’s drive to end Tuesday’s game. It was a big pickup for the bullpen, which had been used up while getting 17 outs the night before.
“To give those guys a day where we were able to go out there and win a tough game, and ‘Wis’ go out there and pitch a huge inning for us,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It is and was and will always be the type of thing you need to happen if you’re gonna survive and continue to win in a major league baseball season. Huge effort from him, going right into the middle of their lineup. Facing some guys that are very tough hitters.”
With the Twins back to having five healthy starters, Wisler likely will land in a more traditional bullpen role. But not so fast. The Twins have a doubleheader Friday against Detroit and might need him to open.
Wisler isn’t concerned about roles. He’s finding out how effective he can be throwing one pitch and carving out a spot on a team looking for another postseason berth.
“It’s a good fit because the pitching coaches are good,” Wisler said. “Wes does a great job with us. Pete [Maki, the assistant pitching coach] is good out there. I have a good working relationship with these catchers. The big thing I’ve looked at is I’ve had a lot of help this year, with the defense behind me, the play Jake made for me. Having guys like Trevor May coming in after me and picking up my [baserunners] this year. Those have been a huge influence. I looked at it the other day and I could just as easily have a five [ERA] this year as what I’m doing.
“So a lot of credit to the guys behind me doing what they’re doing. And I guess this is the first time I’ve really been on a World Series-contending team. Instead of pitching to statistics on a bad team, all you’re trying to do is go out there and win the game. It frees you up a little bit, instead of worrying about your numbers and giving up runs, you’re just trying to make sure you win that game.”