PHILS INSIDER

Brad Miller walks Phillies off after bullpen blows Zack Wheeler's gem

PHILS INSIDER

There was a little extra buzz in the air at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Maybe it was the arrival of a holiday weekend. Maybe it was the arrival of the San Diego Padres and their star-studded cast.

Or maybe it was just the anticipation of another Zack Wheeler gem.

And a wild, victorious finish.

The Phils beat the Padres, 4-3, on an RBI double by pinch-hitter Brad Miller with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning.

It was a much more difficult victory than it should have been.

Wheeler delivered his latest masterpiece — 7⅔ scoreless innings, no walks, nine strikeouts — then watched helplessly as the bullpen blew it to shreds.

Jose Alvarado and Ranger Suarez failed to protect a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Alvarado, who got the final out in the eighth, walked two batters and allowed an RBI double in the ninth.

Suarez inherited two runners when manager Joe Girardi pulled Alvarado with one out and was charged with the blown save— the team's eighth in the last nine games — when Jurickson Profar tied the game with a two-out double.

Suarez composed himself, got three outs with a man on second in the top of the 10th and ended up with the win.

The victory left the Phillies at 38-41 as they try to put together a much-needed charge before the All-Star break. They have nine games left before the break, including two more against high-powered San Diego. Zach Eflin will pitch against Yu Darvish on Saturday afternoon and Vince Velasquez will pitch for the Phils on Sunday afternoon. The Padres have not announced a starter for that game.

 

The Phillies, who are four games behind the first-place Mets in the weak NL East, need to put together a winning streak to remain viable in the race as the trade deadline approaches. But the bullpen remains a serious issue. They lead the majors with 22 blown saves. The franchise record for a full season is 25. 

Girardi was asked if he'd like to see upper management address the bullpen as the trade deadline nears.

"Well, I think it's important that we get our bullpen going," he said. "I think that's really important. As far as talking about moves, that's not my job. I'll have discussions with (baseball operations leaders) Dave (Dombrowski) and Sam (Fuld) but my job is to manage the players they give me."

Getting the bullpen going will start with getting Alvarado to throw strikes. He has walked 27 batters in 31 innings. He took over the closer's role two weeks ago after a rash of blown saves by Hector Neris. 

Will Girardi stick with Alvarado in the role?

"I've said all along that he's going to be our closer," Girardi said. "He's going to pitch the tough spots in games. And that's what I gave him tonight. I don't see us making a change.

"I just love his stuff, and when he doesn't walk people he's dominating. When you come into tight situations, save situations, you can't afford to walk multiple people. That's something he needs to continue to work on."

Wheeler is a shoo-in to be a National League All-Star when the full team is announced Sunday night. He has not allowed a run in four of his last five starts. He has totaled 28 innings in those four starts. His ERA is a microscopic 2.05. He leads the majors with 114 innings.

The Padres' lineup features two $300 million men in Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. Wheeler allowed just four hits in his 7⅔ innings. Machado had a single against Wheeler and Tatis a double. Wheeler quickly moved past both hits.

Wheeler was at 106 pitches through seven innings and Girardi was faced with a decision: Stick with his cruising starter or go to an incendiary bullpen.

Girardi stuck with Wheeler for the first two outs of the eighth then removed him at 114 pitches.

"One-fourteen," Girardi said. "That's the decision. We've got a long way to go. He's thrown so many innings for us already and there's concern on my part because of that. I mean, what are we at, 80 games? He's on pace for 228 now. It's just concern. Concern about pushing him too far. We need him. There's a long way to go."

Wheeler understood the move.

"I felt strong, but Joe's right," he said. "It's long-term. It's not just about tonight. Obviously, of course, I wanted to be out there, but it's long-term. I want to be doing this for the whole season and not just half of it.

 

The crowd of 22,653 booed Girardi when he pulled Wheeler.

"It's part of the job," Girardi said. "Fortunately, I've been booed a lot before as a player and as a manager. It's part of it. And I've said all along: Phillies fans just want us to do well.

"And you know what? I'm frustrated, too, just like they are when we don't, so I'm OK with it."

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