Wheeler follows Nola's lead, dominates Nats

September 3rd, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- This is why the Phillies need to get to the postseason.

 and  just dominated the Nationals on consecutive nights at Citizens Bank Park. Nola pitched eight scoreless innings on Tuesday and Wheeler pitched 6 2/3 scoreless frames in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory, putting the Phillies in position to sweep the four-game series with a victory Thursday.

Philadelphia has won eight of its last nine games since Bryce Harper said on Aug. 22, after a bullpen meltdown dropped them to 9-14: “We have to go on a streak and win nine out of 10. It needs to happen.”

The Phils are one win away from doing exactly that.

“I think we’re very capable of it,” Wheeler said. “I think that’s shown. I think we all just have our heads down. We know what’s expected of us and what we’re capable of.”

These past 11 days can have one thinking about Nola and Wheeler pitching Games 1 and 2 in a best-of-three series to open the postseason.

It could be fun, right?

“I’m not going to even let you ask the question,” manager Joe Girardi said in a good-natured fashion.

Girardi knows that the Phillies still have 28 games to play in 25 days. Anything can happen.

But their chances improve with Nola and Wheeler atop the rotation. Nola is 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA in seven starts. Wheeler is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA in seven starts. Wheeler is the first Phillies pitcher to allow three or fewer runs in his first seven starts after pitching for another team since Fernando Valenzuela in 1994, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Not Roy Halladay. Not Cliff Lee.

Not Curt Schilling. Not Roy Oswalt.

It’s Wheelermania in Philadelphia, minus the fans.

“Everything has gone to plan so far,” Wheeler said. “It’s everything I wished. A lot of hard work. The people here are great. You know, you’ve got J.T. [Realmuto] back there, and he puts a lot of confidence in your pitches, calling stuff at certain times when maybe in the past I haven’t thrown a certain pitch in a certain count or a certain situation. But when he puts the fingers down, it boosts your confidence about that pitch.”

Wheeler allowed just three hits and two walks. He struck out six, getting 18 swings and misses.

“Zack had great fastball command,” Girardi said. “He was able to run fastballs in to righties and away from lefties. He was able to elevate. He was able to go down and away to righties. He threw some pretty good changeups, some good sliders. He just had really good stuff again. He’s been very consistent for us. It helps to have 98 [mph] in your back pocket.”

On nights when Nola or Wheeler pitch, the Phillies do not have to score tons of runs. They broke through in the fourth on Wednesday, when Neil Walker hit a bases-loaded single to center field against Nationals ace Max Scherzer to plate two runs. Jay Bruce’s opposite-field home run in the sixth provided an insurance run.

Walker started at first base in place of a red-hot Rhys Hoskins. Girardi said before the game that he rested Hoskins because he needs to keep his everyday players healthy and fresh for a grueling month, one which includes five seven-inning doubleheaders in 15 days.

Girardi called the decision a difficult one. Difficult because few players in baseball have been swinging a better bat than Hoskins. He is batting .394 (13-for-33) with five home runs, 11 RBIs and a 1.443 OPS since Aug. 22. Only five other players have a higher OPS during that stretch. Girardi did not mention it, but Hoskins is hitless with one walk and 10 strikeouts in 17 career at-bats against Scherzer.

Walker got his shot and delivered.

“I’ve been just doing what I can to stay as sharp as I can,” he said. “Getting that spot start tonight, and being able to come through, is just icing on the cake.”

This is Walker’s 12th season in the big leagues. He has been on some good teams with good offenses and pitching staffs. He likes what he sees.

“Kind of comparing them to some of the other teams I’ve been on, offensively, it’s probably the deepest team,” Walker said. “That’s playing on a 2018 Yankees team. The '16 Mets and the 2013-15 Pirates teams. I think that’s our strength. Our starters are really impressive across the board. Zach Eflin is having a really good year and that’s icing on top of the cake when you’re talking about Wheels and Nola at the top. You hope that it continues and you think that it will.”