The Memorial Day checkpoint is a week away, and so far, Zack Wheeler has been the Philadelphia Phillies’ best player in 2021. He shut the Boston Red Sox down on Sunday afternoon after being provided four first-inning runs of support in a 6-2 Phillies win.
The Phillies salvaged the weekend with a win but have lost three consecutive series (Toronto Blue Jays, Miami Marlins, Boston Red Sox). They are 23-24, tied with the Atlanta Braves for second place in the NL East and 1 1/2 games behind the New York Mets.
Here’s three takeaways:
Another Wheeler gem
Wheeler allowed a leadoff single and then cruised through, retiring 17 in a row with eight strikeouts. Even that leadoff single from Kiké Hernandez probably should have been an out. It was a bloop to shallow right field that had a 95% catch probability, according to Statcast.
Wheeler didn’t encounter a jam until the sixth inning when he got the first two batters before Hernandez singled and Danny Santana walked. The dangerous Rafael Devers struck out on a high heater to end the inning.
Wheeler’s final line: 7⅓ IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 12 K.
The 12 strikeouts tied a career-high from eight seasons ago.
“I thought his fastball was outstanding today,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “He actually threw some pretty good curveballs, too. He kept his pitch count down on a very hot day and was aggressive and ahead all day.”
Interestingly, Wheeler said he felt off prior to the game when he warmed up and didn’t lock in until feeling the adrenaline on the mound.
The Red Sox lone run against Wheeler came on Franchy Cordero’s 474-foot Ashburn Ally shot solo home run to start the seventh. It certainly helped that Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez were out of Boston’s lineup, but Wheeler has dominated each of his last four opponents, allowing three runs and 21 baserunners in 29 1/3 innings with 36 strikeouts and a strike rate of better than 70%. The Phillies have won all four.
In 21 starts as a Phillie, Wheeler has a 2.54 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 145 innings. He continues to earn the $23.6 million a year on his contract and has reached that next level. His ERA as a Phillie has been more than a run lower than his mark with the Mets.
His start Sunday was big because the Phillies had lost four in a row and start a three-series road trip Monday.
“Honestly, it popped in my head last night after the loss, that we needed to get back on the right track and it kind of came down to me today,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t put any more pressure on myself, but I knew it was a big game for us. We needed to get back on a winning track going into Miami and to win those games, those are the kind you need to win. Hopefully today starts a new little run for us.”
Wheeler has been especially tough early in games in these 21 starts, with a 1.29 ERA and .194 opponents’ batting average in the first three innings. Give him early run support and he’s hard to beat.
“He’s been really important to us, even last year,” Girardi said. “The good thing is we get the full effect of him this year because he can swing the bat, too. He’s gone deep into games, he’s been great, and he was great again today.”
Quick start offensively
Miller’s three-run homer, the 99th of his career, came with two outs in the first against Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. Miller was starting in right field for slumping Bryce Harper, who had the day off.
Rhys Hoskins was key in the opening frame with a two-out RBI single and a stolen base. Rodriguez had Alec Bohm behind in the count when Hoskins swiped the bag and then walked Bohm to set the table for Miller.
Hot day for Herrera
Odubel Herrera, batting second, reached base four times. He doubled twice, drove in a run, singled, was hit by a pitch and stole a base. He’s hit .368 over his last 17 games.
The Phils now head to Miami for a four-game series Monday through Thursday. They’re off Friday, then play two in Tampa and three in Cincinnati.
Zach Eflin will take the bump Monday opposing Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers.