Wheeler plays the ace card, gets Phillies back on track with a chance to win series


The Phillies have been without the biggest bat in their starting lineup the last few days, but they still have the biggest arm in their starting rotation and he was really good Wednesday night.

Zack Wheeler put a team on his back and led the Phillies to a 3-0 win over the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park.

With Bryce Harper out of the lineup for a third straight game, Wheeler did the ol’ stopper thing in halting a two-game losing streak. The 31-year-old right-hander pitched seven shutout innings, walked none and struck out nine to run his scoreless innings streak to 20 2/3 innings over his last three starts at home.

Twenty-four hours earlier, the Phils were on the receiving end of a 3-0 shutout against the Padres. On Sunday, they let a ninth-inning lead get away and lost in Los Angeles.

Like a good cut man, enter Wheeler.

“That’s what guys are supposed to do,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Come back. You’ve got to bounce back and to have Zack on the mound was great today. To come out and be able to do this after yesterday and a frustrating loss Sunday was great to see.”

The Phils had just five hits, all singles, in Tuesday night’s shutout loss. They had just five hits Wednesday night, but two of them were extra-base hits that produced runs, including Rhys Hoskins’ seventh homer.

“To play some pretty clean baseball after getting our butts kicked last night was nice to see and it’s usually the sign of a good team,” Hoskins said.

The victory got the Phillies back to a game under .500 (18-19) and put them in position to win their third straight series in Thursday afternoon’s finale against the Padres. Harper may be back in the designated hitter spot for that one.

Wheeler gave up just four hits, one of which was an infield hit, and was supported by a couple of contributions from his batterymate, J.T. Realmuto, in the first inning. In the top of the inning, Realmuto made a great defensive play to cut down a runner at third base. In the bottom of the inning, he snapped an 0-for-13 skid with a two-out single against lefty Blake Snell to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

The Phils built their lead to 2-0 on Hoskins’ homer in the third and 3-0 on an RBI double by Odubel Herrera in the fourth.

The pitching, first by Wheeler and then by Jose Alvarado and Corey Knebel, made it all stand up. The adventurous Alvarado had an adventure-free eighth inning and Knebel, who blew a save Sunday in Los Angeles, racked up No. 8 with a scoreless ninth.

After being slowed by offseason shoulder soreness and a bout with the flu in spring training, Wheeler came out of the gate slowly this season. He was down with COVID-19 earlier this month, but when healthy has really begun to hit his stride. He has pitched shutout ball in three of his last four starts, covering six, 7 2/3 and seven innings in those outings.

Wheeler kept the Padres off balance with mostly a three-pitch mix -- four-seam fastball, sinker and slider. His power fastball topped out at 97.8 mph and averaged 95.8. He threw 97 pitches and got a whopping 19 swings and misses.

Wheeler got in some trouble late in his outing. He allowed a two-out double to Jake Cronenworth in the sixth but came back to blow away Ha-Seong Kim with pure heat. In the seventh, he allowed a leadoff single to Manny Machado. Eric Hosmer then launched a long drive to the gap in right-center that Nick Castellanos was able to track down.

Off the bat, Hosmer’s ball looked like a two-run homer that would have made it a one-run game.

“I thought it was gone,” Wheeler admitted. “Then I turned around and saw Castellanos running to it and I was like, ‘Thank Goodness.’”

Hosmer and Wheeler grinned at each other after Castellanos made the catch.

“It was a ball over the middle plate and he took a really good swing at it and it sounded good,” Wheeler said. “Maybe it’s the balls.”

A year ago, before Major League Baseball mandated the use of humidors to store baseballs in every stadium, Hosmer’s drive might have left the yard.

“I’ve seen a lot of balls to right-center travel out of the yard here,” Hoskins said. “Luckily, it didn’t. Nick got to it and kept the guy at first base.

“The ball giveth and the ball taketh, I guess.”

No problem.

“I’ll take it,” Wheeler said.

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