Zack Wheeler had thrown 117 pitches. He was one out away from the second shutout of his career. And now he had a visitor at the mound.
Joe Girardi just wanted to look into his pitcher’s eyes and make sure he was OK. But really, there would have been no taking Wheeler out of this game.
Not without a fight.
“We were both pretty adamant that we were going to finish that game,” catcher Andrew Knapp said.
Wheeler finished it, all right. Daniel Vogelbach popped up the right-hander’s 118th pitch of the game to seal the Phillies’ 2-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers – and a four-game sweep.
Afterward, Girardi called the victory the high point of the Phillies’ season. The Brewers had entered the four-game series tied for the best record in the National League. The Phillies won three one-run games and a two-run game -- all with Bryce Harper sitting out -- to improve to 17-15 and move into sole possession of first place in the NL East.
“As well as they were playing,” Girardi said. “Yeah, this is a big point in our season.”
The Phillies’ bullpen picked up 10⅔ innings in the first three games of the series. Every night was a walk on a tightrope. But the bullpen managed to protect three one-run victories.
Wheeler gave the bullpen a day off Thursday. He gave up just three hits, two in the ninth before Girardi’s visit, walked none and struck out eight.
Girardi’s visit in the ninth was so quick one might have thought Wheeler told him to get lost. But Wheeler is a Southern gentleman. He wouldn’t do that.
“That’s probably what it looked like, but no,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “He asked me if I could get this guy and I said, ‘Yeah.’ That was pretty much it.”
It was Wheeler’s first shutout since 2014 and the best start of his career. He needed a great one because Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff, who entered the game with a 1.80 ERA, second-best in the NL, was brilliant. Woodruff went 6⅔ innings and gave up two hits and two walks while striking out 11. The only run Woodruff allowed came on a solo homer by Alec Bohm with one out in the seventh.
“That was a heavyweight battle between Zack and Woodruff today,” said Knapp, who was behind the plate as J.T. Realmuto got a rest.
“With those two guys on the mound today, one run felt like a lot,” Girardi said. “It really did.
“Woodruff is as good as advertised. He’s got special stuff. He’s got late movement. He’s got velocity. He’s got four pitches that he can throw at you. And Zack just out-pitched him. He’s got great stuff, too. We saw an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel today.”
This Phillies team has flaws but so does every other team in the NL East. That’s why the Phils, despite their inconsistencies, are in first place.
But one area that is not flawed is the top three in the starting rotation.
Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin have pitched to a 3.05 ERA and averaged 6½ innings over 20 starts.
In an era when fewer and fewer starters are allowed to go deep into the games, Girardi has extended his top three guys. Wheeler has gone 8, 7 and 9 innings, respectively, in his last three starts. Nola pitched a shutout earlier.
Girardi was able to push Wheeler on Thursday because the right-hander’s stuff was still good late in the game -- he was throwing 97 mph in the ninth inning – and the Phillies have an off day Monday which will allow Wheeler an extra day of rest before his next start.
“Coming up all those years and playing all those years, sometimes it frustrates you when somebody takes you out when you feel like you weren’t done,” Wheeler said. “So, I appreciate Joe. He’s been around a while and he has a feel and I think he knows me by now.
“I’m a pretty honest guy, so if I’m feeling like I’m not on or I might need somebody, I’ll tell him to just have somebody up. Today, I felt fine. I kind of breezed through that game and I felt fine all the way through.”
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