Phils fall despite Wheeler's career-high 14 K's

May 29th, 2021

did just about everything with the baseball on Saturday at Tropicana Field.

He struck out a career-high 14 batters in just seven innings against the Rays. He became the first Phillies pitcher to have at least 10 strikeouts in three consecutive games since Curt Schilling in June 1998. Wheeler joined Schilling and Steve Carlton as the only pitchers in franchise history to do it. Wheeler’s 14 strikeouts were tied for the second-most in a game this season across the Majors, the most by a Phils pitcher since Vince Velasquez’s 16-strikeout performance against the Padres on April 14, 2016, and the most by a Philadelphia pitcher on the road since Roy Halladay’s 14 in San Diego on April 24, 2011.

The Phillies still lost, 5-3.

“It’s a hard game,” Wheeler said. “We’re a good team. We just have to remember that.”

Baseball is hard. Roman Quinn suffered a serious left Achilles injury in the fifth, just moments before he scored a game-tying run. Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he expects bad news, even before Quinn flies to Philadelphia for an MRI exam. Matt Joyce hit a game-tying home run to right field in the seventh, which snapped an 0-for-28 streak. J.T. Realmuto played for the first time since May 15, coming off the 10-day injured list. He could not block Sam Coonrod’s wild pitch in the eighth, which allowed the go-ahead run to advance from first to third.

“It changed the whole inning,” Girardi said.

José Alvarado did not get the strikeout he needed in the eighth. He allowed the go-ahead run to score on an infield single. He then hit a batter and walked a batter to force home another run.

Wheeler had his difficult moments, too. He pulled a 1-1 fastball over the plate to Austin Meadows in the first. Meadows hit a two-run home run to right to hand Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead. Wheeler later walked back-to-back batters on 3-2 counts with two outs in the sixth. One of those walks came around to score to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.

“I was telling [pitching coach] Caleb [Cotham] that, back in the day, that would have been a good day for me -- two walks,” Wheeler said. “But these days, it really bothers me. Especially that late in the game, you just want to keep guys off the bases and keep attacking them. I just walked those two guys and it’s pretty frustrating.

“You’ve just got to keep your head up. We know what we’re capable of. Yeah, we haven’t been playing the way that we should. We have a few games here and there where we make a lot of errors or things just don’t go your way. But we have to come back the next day and clear our head and get back out there and get back on the right track. That’s what I was trying to do today. Just go up there and put up some zeroes and give us a chance. But I put up those three.”

If the Phillies can ever get going like Wheeler thinks they can, he figures to be a big part of it. He is on a remarkable run. He is 4-2 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts. Since he allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Giants on April 20, he is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in seven starts. He has struck out 66 and walked eight over 51 1/3 innings in that stretch.

He had walked no more than one batter in each of his previous five starts.

“I feel really dialed in right now,” Wheeler said. “You follow along with the game plan, but you also pitch to your strengths. I feel like I’ve been doing that recently, just pitching to my strengths. I think that’s the best way to go about it. When you’re able to command most of your pitches and all that, it definitely makes it a lot easier, getting ahead in the count. The numbers speak for themselves when you get ahead in the count league-wide.”

Wheeler struck out at least one batter on each of his pitches: four on four-seam fastballs; three each on sinkers, sliders and curveballs; and one on a changeup. Wheeler’s changeup is his fifth-best pitch. He had thrown only 44 this season before throwing seven on Saturday.

“It makes it a lot easier for us when you can command those and everything is shaped like it’s supposed to,” Wheeler said. “Even today, the changeup was there. Whenever you have the whole arsenal, it just makes it so much easier.”

But the Phillies needed a little more to beat the Rays. Instead, they fell to 25-27.