Phillies Game Story

Turner blasts off, Mercado shines in first major-league start

NBC Universal, Inc.

CHICAGO — Two weeks ago, Michael Mercado was in Allentown starting against the Norfolk Tides.

Taijuan Walker was healthy. Spencer Turnbull was healthy. The idea of Mercado finding himself on the mound at Wrigley Field for his first major-league start in front of the best team in baseball just two Tuesdays later would have sounded far-fetched.

Yet there he was for the Phillies' series opener against the Cubs, making the first of what could be five starts leading into the July 30 trade deadline.

The 25-year-old rookie allowed hard contact here and there — mostly to Cody Bellinger — but had a promising introduction to the Phillies' rotation by allowing just one run on two hits over five innings in a 6-4 win, a job well done for any team's fifth starter.

Mercado had two on with two outs and a 2-0 count to Ian Happ in the first inning but rebounded to strike him out.

He threw 28 pitches in the third inning and allowed a two-out RBI double, then cruised through the fourth and fifth.

"That's what's most important is to have that composure and still compete and not get rattled," Trea Turner said.

"That tells you a little bit about his makeup and poise," manager Rob Thomson added. "He threw strikes, fastball had good velo, looked like it had good carry on it. Cutter was really effective and he landed his breaking ball enough to keep them off everything else. I thought he was really good."

Mercado didn't even begin the year on the Phillies' depth chart of starting pitchers. They acquired him in November from the Rays, who didn't have room on their 40-man roster, and he began the season as a reliever at Triple A.

But the struggles of starters like Kolby Allard, David Buchanan and Mick Abel, among others, gave him an opportunity.

"It was actually (assistant pitching coach) Brian Kaplan that came up with it because we had a couple of guys who weren't throwing well at Triple A to start the season," Thomson said. "Just the repertoire with high velocity, the strike-throwing ability and the way he can throw his breaking ball, the effectiveness of it, he thought that it might be a big piece for us for depth. And thank god he came up with the idea because it's really worked out well."

The end to Mercado's first start was especially impressive. He retired the final seven hitters he faced and needed only 21 pitches total to get through the fourth and fifth innings before handing the ball to the bullpen, which retired nine in a row until Jose Ruiz allowed all three batters he faced in the ninth inning to score.

"Both times I felt like I felt more nervous just warming up pregame," Mercado said of his first relief appearance and first start. "It's like making my debut, it's one of those things that you dream about doing at a place so historic. It was a great team win, too. I'm just happy that I could contribute.

"I think just the confidence I have in myself and the confidence the guys in this clubhouse have in me. We go back to what we've always been doing and for me, that's pitching. Being able to settle in and treat it like any other game is huge."

It helped that the Phillies supported him early. Garrett Stubbs, who prides himself on the game-planning and strategic element of catching, navigated Mercado through the start and further helped him with a two-run double down the third-base line in the second inning.

Turner hit a solo home run to left-center in the top of the third, then brutalized a middle-in 94 mph fastball from Hayden Wesneski in the fifth, hitting it 439 feet out of the stadium onto Waveland Ave for a two-run shot. Two innings later, Turner fell behind in the count 1-2 before stroking a two-out, opposite-field RBI single.

"Oh, absolutely," Thomson said of the positive impact of early run support. "But it can work the other way, too. It can put more pressure on a guy because he's got the lead and he doesn't want to give it up. But he held his own. He was great."

Turner had the game-winning two-run single on Sunday and will be even more crucial than usual over the next week to 10 days as the Phillies await the returns of Bryce Harper (hamstring strain), Kyle Schwarber (groin strain) and J.T. Realmuto (right meniscus surgery recovery). All three injured Phillies are making progress. They each jogged on the field Tuesday, Realmuto did receiving drills and took batting practice on the field for the first time since his June 12 surgery, and Harper and Schwarber hit in the cage indoors.

Harper and Schwarber could be back as soon as July 9. Realmuto's return might have to wait until after the All-Star break, though Thomson hasn't closed the door.

"We'll see," the Phillies' manager said Tuesday afternoon. "He's a quick healer."

The Phillies have gone 11-9 without Realmuto and are 3-1 since Harper and Schwarber went down. They've gotten big contributions from Turner and Nick Castellanos, and also from Stubbs.

Stubbs treats his offense like "icing on the cake" but he's held his own at the dish since Realmuto's surgery, batting .275 with a hit in 10 of the 11 games he's played.

The next-man-up mentality for the 2024 Phillies has been more than just lip service.

"A lot of guys want to play," Turner said. "Everybody's excited for the opportunity and that's really important. Don't know if that's always the case but I feel like guys are itching to play and that's really cool. When their name's called, it's their time to prove what they're capable of, and we've got a lot of good players on top of that. That combination is what you're seeing."

The Phils are 56-29, a season-best 27 games over .500. The Braves lost to the Giants so the Phillies' division lead is back up to nine games. The teams meet this weekend for the first time since the first three games of the year.

But first, they'll look to take at least two of three from a Cubs team that has lost six of seven series and 16 of the last 24 games. Zack Wheeler takes the hill Wednesday night and Cristopher Sanchez will start the afternoon of July 4.

Contact Us