Wheeler works without 'best stuff' to go 7 strong

July 24th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- Zack Wheeler didn’t need an All-Star team behind him to win on Saturday evening.

But a little help would have been nice.

Wheeler was lights out again, but his team stranded the go-ahead runs in scoring position in the seventh and eighth innings, then imploded in the 10th as the Phillies fell to the visiting Cubs, 6-2, at Citizens Bank Park.

“It is what it is,” said Wheeler, when asked if the lack of run support was frustrating. “That’s baseball.”

It is the second straight loss for the Phillies (49-45), who have scored more than three runs just twice in their last 11 games.

“We haven’t swung the bats,” said Rhys Hoskins, who went hitless in four at-bats. “It’s just plain and simple. You have to get guys on base if you want to score runs in bunches.”

Wheeler, who was not selected for the All-Star Game despite ranking in the top 10 in the National League in ERA, wins, strikeouts and WAR, bounced back from a rare rocky start, in which he allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings in his final appearance before the break. On Saturday, he scattered three hits and one run while striking out six over seven innings.

After eight days off, Wheeler said he felt a little rusty.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Wheeler said. “As the game went on, I think my offspeed stuff got a bit better.”

The loss continued a trend of the Phillies not backing up their aces. Despite outstanding seasons from both, the Phillies are now 17-20 in games started by Wheeler or Aaron Nola and 32-25 in games started by other pitchers.

The top three hitters in the Phillies lineup -- Kyle Schwarber, Hoskins and Nick Castellanos -- combined to go 0-for-11 with a walk and five strikeouts.

Castellanos expressed frustration about his struggles to get on base. When asked whether a drop from the third spot in the lineup would help take some pressure off, Castellanos deferred to his manager.

“That’s a question for [interim manager Rob Thomson],” Castellanos said. “I’ll hit wherever. I like hitting three. I’m not somebody that thinks that where I hit in the lineup has anything to do with how I perform.”

Thomson said he had some ideas for shaking up the lineup, but would talk about it another day.

The Cubs (37-57) opened the scoring in the second, when Nico Hoerner barrelled a 1-1 slider to left field for a solo home run.

“I left one up to Nico and thought I could fix it on the next pitch, and it did the exact same thing in the exact same spot and he got ahold of it,” Wheeler said. “I kind of settled in after that.”

Wheeler, who has allowed one or zero runs in three of his last four starts and four of his last eight, did not allow another hit until the sixth inning. Wheeler picked off one baserunner and wrapped up his night by snagging a ground ball and starting a 1-4-3 double play to end the seventh. He threw 106 pitches.

The Cubs took the lead in the 10th when the automatic runner, Hoerner, ran home on a fielder’s choice grounder to third by Frank Schwindel off José Alvarado. Hoerner had stolen third a few pitches earlier. Alec Bohm fielded the ball cleanly, but the throw was a little off-line and J.T. Realmuto’s tag was late.

“That was actually a good play,” Thomson said. “He just pulled the throw a little bit. It was just to [Realmuto’s] backup side a little bit.”

After a double by David Bote, Christopher Morel drove home Schwindel with a single. An error by Bohm opened the floodgates and the Cubs tacked on three more runs.

“I think Alec would tell you he should have made that play,“ Thomson said.

However, he added that he believes Bohm’s fielding frustrations are behind him.

“I think he’s over all that. I really do,” said Thomson. “I think he’s confident. Everyone makes mistakes every once in a while. He’s really played well lately.”

Like Thomson, the Phillies insisted the back-to-back losses were not something that would derail their season.

“It’s just two games,” Hoskins said. “We’re not going to panic in here. We have a chance to salvage the series and gain some momentum going into the Braves [series]. So big one tomorrow.”

Said Wheeler: “It will come around. Just win some ball games. It starts tomorrow.”