ATLANTA — The Phillies took their second straight win over the Braves 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 at least 97. Wheeler’s two-string speed was a mph above his season average and he hit the Brave hitters with it in the inside corner. He struck out the dangerous Austin Riley and Shaun Murphy twice each and retired Matt Olson all four times he faced him.
Wheeler almost didn’t stand a chance against Olson that last time. He was on 97 pitches through seven innings and manager Rob Thompson told him he had two batters in the eighth inning – Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuña Jr. If Wheeler retired, Thompson told him he could stay to face Olson. The right-hander immediately hit Harris and Acuña and got a two-pitch Olson ground ball.
Eight innings, three hits, no runs, 12 strikeouts. dominance.
“Everything was easy,” Thompson said. “The tailor had two stingers. They’d been cutting balls in our dugout all day.”
Wheeler benefited from excellent defensive play and honest running back by third baseman Alec Baum in the fourth inning. With a man on second and one out, a spirited Marcel Ozuna put a ground ball down the third base line and a bum dove to his right and threw it off his knees. If Bohm didn’t jump the ball, it scored a run, putting Ozuna in scoring position and forcing a high-pressure pitch on Wheeler, who was instead out later on.
“Huge, huge. It was a great play,” said Thompson. “And having the brains to stay on the ground and get it through to first base because he knew he had time, just great play. In the last year, he’s grown so much—physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s amazing.”
The Braves have won five consecutive NFL titles and have the best offense in the league so far in 2023. However, Wheeler, in 11 games against the Braves as a member of the Phillies, is 5-2 with a 2.10 ERA.
He is a senior pitcher and seems to be preparing for his competition in this department.
“They are a fierce team so you just have to play in it,” he said. “I throw a lot of strikes and that kind of action along with them being aggressive. But at the same time, if you don’t have it, they’ll pay you for it. Very hardworking there.”
“I know this line-up very well. They have a few new players but I know these guys very well, where they go at certain times.”
The Phils are 25-27 and looking to win the four-game series against #1 Atlanta on Sunday Night Baseball. Wheeler’s long outing was especially important as Dylan Coffey made his first start as a Philly at the end.
The Braves’ Charlie Morton shut out early and maxed out at 98 mph, but the Phillies managed to get him in the fifth inning by producing from bottom of the order. Brandon Marsh started the frame on his own and Cody Clemens doubled to put two up in the scoring position. Bryson Stott’s sacrifice fly followed and Trea Turner doubled in a run for the second straight game.
Clemens continues to produce in a part-time role. 333 over his last 12 home runs with four home runs, three doubles and 10 RBIs. He primarily claimed the starting role of Darrick Hall during the season, starting at first base against right-handed pitchers. Hall will start his rehab assignment Tuesday at Clearwater, but will need to get back into the seniors given the amount of time he lost to a sprained thumb and the success Clemens has had.
Turner may finally be in the early stages of a hot streak. He drove in consecutive games for the first time all season and had an extra base hit in three of his last four games.
“I’m getting closer and closer,” Turner said. “The stats are nothing too crazy, but the quality of the rackets is getting better, putting the ball into play, doing what I want to do. I feel so much better, more confident.
“I really liked today. I made another little adjustment and it felt really good, the strikes are coming back down. Just trying to keep consistency. All good signs. I should feel the heat.”
Craig Kimbrell finished with the win for his 401st save, a day after he became the eighth member of the 400 saves club. He joked after his big moment on Friday night that he still had to practice an hour because there was a match to win the next day. They did win. Kimbrel allowed a one-hit single to Sean Murphy but retired Ozuna and Eddie Rosario to end the game, giving the Phillies a chance to win their first NL East Series of 2023.