The Phillies shut down the Braves with one of the best starts of Wheeler’s career, originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
ATLANTA — The Phillies beat the Braves back-to-back with a 2-1 win on Saturday, thanks mostly to one of the best starts of Zack Wheeler’s career.
The Phillies ace was feeling it, hitting 98 mph three times in the first inning and throwing 27 pitches at least 97. Wheeler’s two-seam speed was up a mph from his season average and he has beat the Braves batters with in the inside corner. He’s knocked out the dangerous Austin Riley and Sean Murphy twice apiece and retired southpaw Matt Olson all four times he’s faced him.
Wheeler almost didn’t get a chance to face Olson this past time. He was 97 pitches in seven innings and manager Rob Thomson told him he had two more batters in the eighth – Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuña Jr. If Wheeler both retired, Thomson told him, he could stay to confront Olson. The right-hander quickly took Harris and Acuña out and got a two-pitch ground ball from Olson.
Eight innings, three hits, no runs, 12 strikeouts. Dominance.
“He had it all,” Thomson said. “The two-knives had bite. They were cutting bullets in our dugout all day.”
Wheeler benefited from excellent defensive play by third baseman Alec Bohm in the fourth inning. With a man at second and one out, a scorching Marcell Ozuna threw a ground fly ball to the third base line and Bohm dove to his right and threw it to his knees. If Bohm doesn’t glove the ball, he scores a run, puts Ozuna in scoring position, and forces Wheeler to throw some very stressful pitches, which was pretty much out of the inning two pitches later.
“Huge, huge. It was a great game,” Thomson said. “And the presence of mind to stay down and get to first base because he knew he had time, just a good play. Over the last year he’s grown so much – physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s just fantastic.”
The Braves have won five consecutive NL East titles and have the best offense in the league so far in 2023. Yet Wheeler, in 11 starts against the Braves as a member of the Phillies, is 5-2 with a 2.10 MPM.
He’s a big-game pitcher who seems to be rising for this division rival.
“It’s an aggressive team, so you have to play in there,” he said. “I throw a lot of strikes and that kind of work goes with their aggressiveness. But at the same time, if you don’t have your order, they’ll make you pay for it. You have to be very diligent there.
“I know this formation quite well. They have a few new guys but I know those guys quite well, where to go at times.”
The Phils are 25-27 and looking to win the four-game series against first-place Atlanta on Sunday Night Baseball. Wheeler’s long outing was particularly significant with Dylan Covey making his first start as Phillie in the final.
The Braves’ Charlie Morton was also boxed in early and maxed out at 98 mph, but the Phillies were able to reach it in the fifth inning with production from the bottom of the order. Brandon Marsh started the frame with a single and Kody Clemens doubled to put two in scoring position. Bryson Stott followed with a sacrifice fly and Trea Turner doubled in a run for the second game in a row.
Clemens continues to produce in a part-time role. He hit .333 in his last 12 starts with four home runs, three doubles and 10 RBIs. He essentially claimed the role Darick Hall started the season with, starting at first base against right-handed pitchers. Hall will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday in Clearwater, but he’ll have to come back to the big time given the time he missed with a sprained thumb and the success Clemens has had.
Turner could finally be at the start of a hot streak. He went on a back-to-back streak for the first time this season and had an extra hit in three of his last four games.
“I’m getting there, getting closer,” Turner said. “The stats aren’t too crazy, but the quality of hitting is improving, putting the ball in play, doing a bit of what I want. I feel a lot better, more confident.
“I really liked it today. Made another little adjustment and felt really good, strikeouts are going down. Just trying to stay consistent. All good signs. Just gotta warm up. “
Craig Kimbrel closed out the win for stoppage No. 401, the day after becoming the club’s eighth member of the 400 saves. He joked after his big moment on Friday night that he still had to train for an hour because there was a game to be won the next day. They won. Kimbrel allowed a solo homer to Sean Murphy but pulled out Ozuna and Eddie Rosario to end the game, giving the Phillies a chance to win their first NL East Series of 2023.