Phillies

Pirates 5, Phillies 1: Phillies' bats cool off on throwback night in Pittsburgh

Pirates 5, Phillies 1: Phillies' bats cool off on throwback night in Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH — The Phillies modest two-game winning streak came to an end in a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday night.

Starter Zach Eflin did not pitch well in a short outing (he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning) but lack of offense was the main reason for the loss.

The Phils had just three hits (all singles) and their only run was unearned. They grounded into two double plays, struck out 11 times and were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.

The Pirates had 13 hits.

Ninety-nine games into the season, the Phillies are 51-48. They need a victory on Sunday to win the series.

Eflin’s night

The right-hander threw six pitches — all strikes — in a quick first inning, but he was tagged for two doubles, two singles and three runs in the third inning and the Phillies didn’t have enough offense to recover.

Eflin has allowed 16 earned runs in 13 innings over his last three starts.

Tough to handle

Phillies hitters had a tough time with Joe Musgrove, the right-hander acquired by the Pirates from Houston in the Gerrit Cole deal. Musgrove held the Phils to two hits and an unearned run over six innings. He walked two and struck out eight. Musgrove got 14 swinging strikes, including eight on his curveball and slider. The Phils appeared to have something going against Musgrove in the fourth when Jean Segura was hit by a pitch and Bryce Harper walked with one out. But Musgrove retired Rhys Hoskins on a fly ball to center and struck out J.T. Realmuto to end the threat.

Quick hook

With his team down 3-1 with one out and a runner on third base in the top of the fifth inning, manager Gabe Kapler lifted Eflin for pinch-hitter Nick Williams. It was a roll of the dice that early in the game, but the Phils only had one hit at that point and Williams was someone who could deliver a sacrifice fly or possibly tie the game with one swing. Also, Kapler had some length sitting out in the bullpen in Nick Pivetta. Williams’ at-bat was preceded by a 28-minute pop-up rain delay and that gave armchair strategists plenty of time to dissect Kapler’s decision. In the end, Williams and the next hitter, Scott Kingery, struck out, but Kapler’s gamble was understandable on a night when the Phillies had trouble scoring runs.

Pivetta’s bullpen debut

He allowed three hits and a run in two innings of work. Pivetta made a wild throw to third base after a comebacker to the mound and that cost him the only run he allowed. He was demoted to the bullpen one day earlier (see story).

The new guy

Reliever Mike Morin, acquired in a cash deal from the Twins earlier in the day, allowed two doubles and a run in his Phillies debut.

Up next

The series concludes Sunday afternoon. New pickup Drew Smyly will get the start for the Phillies. The Pirates were not going to announce their starter until after Saturday night’s game.

The Phils will have to subtract a player to make room for Smyly on the roster.

The Phillies are off Monday. They visit Detroit for a quick two-game series against the Tigers on Tuesday night.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies