Phils ready for big NY test after early-season turnaround


Yo, Philly sports fans, while you’ve been living and dying with the Sixers and going over those last-minute NFL mock drafts – wait a sec, one just popped up from some guy in Idaho – the baseball team in town has quietly turned things around.

It’s still way too early to forecast where this season is going, but after 20 games, we know where the Phillies are – at the .500 mark heading into a big, weekend series against the sizzling Mets in New York.

“Two really good teams,” Zack Wheeler said. “I guarantee you they’ll be ready to go, and we’ll be ready to go, too.”

READ: Four-game sweep of the Rockies gets Phillies back to .500

The Phillies will wake up Friday morning feeling a lot better about themselves than they did when they woke up Monday morning. A four-game sweep will do that for you. The Phillies completed said sweep of the Colorado Rockies with a 7-1 win behind Wheeler on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

The Rockies were sloppier than a frat house food fight throughout the series – they made seven errors, hit batters, walked in runs and were charged with 10 unearned runs – but the Phillies weren’t about to complain. They’ve had their fair share of cleanups on Aisle 2 over the last couple of seasons so it was nice to be on the receiving end of one – and capitalize on it – for a change.

“A four-game sweep, regardless of whether you’re playing at home or wherever, is always good,” Rhys Hoskins said. “Playing good against the same team four games in a row is hard to do.

“We got good pitching all series and we manufactured some runs. We didn’t hit a ton of balls out of the ballpark. Everyone knows we’re going to slug, but it’s nice to see when we don’t slug we can manufacture some runs.

“We fired on all cylinders and that’s huge. I don’t want to say we stumbled out of the gate, but it took us a little while to figure each other out, I think. Offense, defense, pitching, we’re meshing well.”

The Phillies hit just four home runs in the four games, but they scored 35 runs, plenty given the pitching they’ve been getting. 

Over the last five games, Phillies starting pitching has allowed just six runs in 30 2/3 innings and the bullpen has gotten a slew of key outs.

Wheeler’s first 12 pitches Thursday were strikes. He pitched six shutout innings, allowed just one hit and struck out seven. His fastball velocity continues to trend upward and he believes more will come as he moves away from an abnormal spring training and the weather warms. The fastball topped out at 96.3 mph and averaged 94.8 mph. He threw 90 pitches and had 11 swings and misses.

Wheeler had two big moments in the game. He allowed a leadoff triple in the third but stranded the runner. Wheeler made a big defensive play in the inning to hold the Rockies off and so did second baseman Jean Segura.

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“I feel like that was my first big test so far this season,” Wheeler said. “I’ve had others along the way, but that was one you really pump yourself up for. You give up a leadoff triple and you’ve really got to make your pitches and bear down from the get-go.”

It was still a close game when Wheeler walked two to put a couple of runners on base with two outs in the fifth. Pitching coach Caleb Cotham walked to the mound for an honest chat with Wheeler. The pitcher caught his breath and struck out Connor Joe on three heaters to get out of trouble.

The win was Wheeler’s first. He had taken the loss in his first three starts.

"I feel like I got the little monkey off my back,” he said. “There are still a few things I need to iron out, but I’m getting to where I want to be.”

And so are the Phillies, heading to New York on the high of a four-game winning streak.

“It’s uplifting,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It gives you more confidence going in. We always talk about momentum being your next day’s starting pitcher, but it’s sure better than the alternative of how we were playing.”

The Mets have the best record in baseball at 14-6. Aaron Nola, coming off seven one-hit, shutout innings on Sunday night, gets the ball in the series opener Friday night in Queens.

“Hopefully we can carry this momentum in there and win some games,” Wheeler said.

“I’m sure it will be intense,” Hoskins said. “It usually is, regardless of where we play. It’s in New York, it’s a weekend series, Sunday night baseball. I know they’re one of the best in the league. We’ll be excited to get after these guys.”

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