WASHINGTON -- It was anyone's guess whom the Phillies were going to call on for the late innings on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
"We'll piece it together," manager Joe Girardi said prior to his club’s 5-4 win against the Nationals.
For much of the night, it seemed as if Zack Wheeler was going to take matters into his own hands. He threw 10 pitches or fewer in three of the first four innings and cruised through six scoreless innings on just 75 pitches.
“You try to get quick innings no matter what, but yeah, I knew the bullpen was a little limited today,” said Wheeler, who completed at least seven innings for an MLB-leading 14th time this season. “So you always try to go deep in the games and just help them out as much as possible."
The NL Cy Young candidate finally ran into trouble in the seventh. He allowed a pair of runs in a 20-pitch frame before returning for the eighth at 95 pitches. On his 10th pitch of that inning -- and 105th of the night -- Wheeler served up a two-run homer to Josh Bell that cut the Phillies’ lead to one.
It was at that point that Girardi started to “piece it together.” He first turned to Neris, who promptly issued a four-pitch walk before retiring the next two batters to escape the eighth.
The former closer has held the opposition scoreless in 11 of his last 12 outings, racking up a 1.98 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 13 2/3 innings during that span.
"He's been able to get a ton of big outs for us over this last month," Girardi said. "We've got him back. He went through a tough period. He kept working, they made some minor adjustments and he's throwing the ball exceptionally well for us right now."
As the Phillies batted in the top of the ninth, it was Kennedy who started to get loose in the bullpen in preparation for what would have been his first save opportunity with his new club. Girardi, however, said he quickly had second thoughts about using him for a third straight day -- something the 26-year-old right-hander has never done in his career.
Along with throwing 25 pitches on Sunday and 24 on Monday, Kennedy loosened up in the bullpen during Saturday’s loss, though he never entered the game.
“I just was not comfortable asking him to essentially go four days in a row,” said Girardi, who added there were no concerns with Kennedy. “I said, 'You're off today,' and after the game I said, 'You're our closer again tomorrow, so you'll be back at work.'”
Instead, Girardi pivoted to Alvarado, who struck out a pair of batters in a 1-2-3 ninth inning. It was a stark contrast from the night before, when Alvarado issued two walks and allowed two hits while recording only two outs. He entered the night with a 10.13 ERA and a 2.75 WHIP in his last 10 outings.
“The big thing is, for him, throwing strikes,” Girardi said. “When he does, his stuff is really good. I mean, it’s really good.”
Offensively, the Phillies relied on the home run ball, starting with Jean Segura going deep on the first pitch of the game. J.T. Realmuto added a solo shot in the seventh and Ronald Torreyes followed with a two-run shot two batters later. Bryce Harper provided the exclamation point in the eighth, teeing off against his former club for a 430-foot solo shot to left-center field.
The Phillies’ reward for successfully piecing together the puzzle was not only moving back above .500 (54-53), but more importantly, climbing to just 1 1/2 games back from the first-place Mets (55-51), who lost to the last-place Marlins (46-61) for a second straight night. Philadelphia welcomes New York to Citizens Bank Park for a three-game set this weekend, with Wheeler presumably taking the mound against his former club in Sunday's series finale.
“We're getting there. These are the games that we need to win and we've been doing that,” Wheeler said. “It doesn't really matter how you win them, as long as you win them. We're keeping track and hopefully we can continue this."