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Wheeler-Realmuto duo firing on all cylinders

@ToddZolecki
August 5, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Girardi planned to have J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp each catch a game in Wednesday’s seven-inning doubleheader against the Yankees at Citizens Bank Park. Girardi chose Realmuto for Game 1, picking him because he wanted him to face Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ, but also because he worked

PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Girardi planned to have J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp each catch a game in Wednesday’s seven-inning doubleheader against the Yankees at Citizens Bank Park.

Girardi chose Realmuto for Game 1, picking him because he wanted him to face Yankees left-hander J.A. Happ, but also because he worked well with Zack Wheeler in Wheeler’s Phillies debut July 25 against the Marlins. Realmuto went 2-for-3 with one home run, two RBIs, two walks and two runs scored, while Wheeler allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings in an 11-7 victory. (Knapp caught Aaron Nola in Game 2.)

Box score

“Playing against him all these years, I was wishing that he was my catcher and now he is,” Wheeler said. “That was part of me coming over here. I love throwing to him.”

Wheeler signed a five-year contract with the Phillies in December. Realmuto is scheduled to become a free agent after the season, and Wheeler is not alone in hoping that Realmuto remains the Phillies’ catcher beyond 2020.

“First off, he can call a game and that’s what you need back there,” Wheeler said. “He’s a great receiver and he’s one of the best in the game at that. When guys do get on, you don’t have to have that thought in the back of your head about being slow to the plate, because he’ll make up for it with his arm. And, of course, he can swing it.”

Small sample size alert, but Realmuto is batting .300 with a .964 OPS through five games, while Wheeler is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA after two starts.

They look pretty good together.

“It was my goal during the down time to be ready to go,” Wheeler said.

Major League Baseball instituted seven-inning doubleheaders this season to take strain off pitching staffs as teams navigate through a pandemic-shortened 60-game season, making this just the third doubleheader in baseball history in which both games lasted fewer than nine innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. If a seven-inning game wasn’t enough of an unusual sight, the Phillies were the “road” team in Game 1 following Tuesday’s postponement in New York because of rain. (However, according to the rulebook the team playing in their home park is always the home team, whether they bat first or last.)

Wheeler had not pitched since July 25 because of COVID-19 and weather-related postponements. It put him on a pitch count.

“It was tough, on again, off again,” Wheeler said about the layoff. “My bullpen was pretty bad the other day. My timing was way off. I was kind of worried coming into the game, but once you get out there you sort of find yourself. It was tough, definitely.”

Wheeler threw his 87th and final pitch when he walked off the mound in the sixth. It was enough.

“No discussion,” Wheeler said. “Pretty much when I came into the dugout Joe said I was done and congratulated me and all that. I felt fine personally, but that’s not my call. That’s Joe’s call. Yeah, simple as that.”

The Phillies had an 11-3 lead at the time. They batted around the lineup twice, sending nine batters to the plate and scoring four runs in the third inning. Bryce Harper got things rolling with a two-run homer. They sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six runs in the sixth.

Girardi figured the bullpen could hold an eight-run lead. But then left-hander Austin Davis allowed a three-run homer to Aaron Judge and Trevor Kelley allowed a couple more hits in the seventh to put the tying run in the on-deck circle. Girardi called Héctor Neris into the game to record a one-pitch, one-out save.

The Phillies’ bullpen has an 8.62 ERA (15 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings).

“I knew it would get done sooner or later,” Wheeler said.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .