It was defeat by a Didi Gregorius error and a thousand paper cuts for Zack Wheeler and the Phillies Wednesday night at Wrigley Field. After Gregorius botched a routine grounder that would have been the second out of the first inning, the Chicago Cubs scored three unearned runs on four hits, including a trio of bloopers, and never trailed en route to an 8-3 win to end their losing streak at 11 games.
All eight of the Cubs’ runs scored with two outs and seven of them (four earned) were charged to Wheeler, who finished the first half with a 6-5 record despite a 2.26 ERA.
“Those [two-out runs] are killers,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Those can be demoralizing when those types of things happen because you’re so close to getting out of every inning and we were tonight and we just weren’t able to do it and that was the difference in the game.”
The Phillies’ winning streak ended at two games and they fell to 4½ games behind the first-place New York Mets, who split a doubleheader with the Milwaukee Brewers. Zach Eflin will try to give the Phillies a series victory Thursday night when he goes against Adbert Alzolay.
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Zack Wheeler’s workload an issue once again
The last time Joe Girardi emerged from the dugout and took the ball away from his ace, Zack Wheeler, with two outs in an inning, the Phillies manager was relentlessly booed by the home crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
Girardi said he was simply managing Wheeler’s workload and the pitcher supported the decision.
“Obviously, of course, I wanted to be out there,” he said. “But it’s about the long term. I want to be doing this for the whole season and not just half of it. I get the [fan] frustration. [The bullpen] has been kind of shaky, but I’ll take Joe’s back on this. As soon as we met in the dugout, I told him, ‘I appreciate you for letting me go back out for the eighth.’ ”
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning Wednesday night, Wheeler walked Ian Happ on four pitches, and Girardi emerged from the visiting dugout. This time, however, Wheeler looked displeased to be leaving the game.
“I felt fine, but it’s ultimately Joe’s decision, so I’ll leave it at that,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler’s pitch count stood at 97 when he departed, and the Phillies trailed, 5-3, after scoring three times in the top of the sixth with the help of a two-run homer by Andrew McCutchen.
Connor Brogdon entered and gave up an RBI single to Joc Pederson and a two-run double to Patrick Wisdom, allowing the Cubs to push their lead back to five runs.
“The last inning [Wheeler’s] velocity was down a little bit, and I just get concerned as much as we have worked him,” Girardi said. “We still have a long ways to go. I don’t ever want to take him out, right, but I also have to manage his workload.”
Wheeler’s last two pitches of the evening were four-seam fastballs that sat at 96.5 and 95.6 mph, which was down slightly from the 97.2-mph four-seamer he threw for his final pitch of the fifth inning.
Asked if he thought the ball was coming out any differently in his final inning, Wheeler answered with one word: “No.”
Girardi was asked if one more batter would have had a negative impact on Wheeler’s long-term health. “I mean it could,” he said. “It may not. You never know when a guy gets hurt. You can’t predict one pitch.”
Wheeler leads the majors with 119⅔ innings pitched, and Girardi reiterated that he is concerned by the pitcher’s workload.
“He doesn’t ever want to come out, but that’s our job to manage him and to make sure that he stays healthy and he’s a player for us all year and next year and the year beyond,” Girardi said. “You have to think about those things. We have to get him through the season. He’s on pace for over 220 innings right now, so we got to get him through, and I just felt like with a little bit of velocity drop off I just thought it was time.”
Wheeler’s career-high total for innings pitched was 195⅓ with the New York Mets in 2019. It seems likely that he will log at least one exhibition inning at the All-Star Game Tuesday night in Denver, and it’s possible he will even start the game. His numbers are certainly worthy of that honor, especially since the Mets’ Jacob deGrom backed out of even attending the game following his Wednesday start against Milwaukee.
Girardi was asked if he has considered giving Wheeler some extra rest coming out of the All-Star break.
“We’re working that out now, and I don’t know what his workload is going to be in the All-Star Game,” the manager said. “That’s something I have not been made aware of. They haven’t named a starter yet, so there are some things we have to get some information on.”
Wheeler said he will welcome the rest between now and his first start after the break, but he also seems intrigued by the idea of being an All-Star Game starting pitcher.
“Any time you have a break it’s good,” he said. “You let your arm rest and recover and get all those nicks out of there. But at the same time you want to keep it going when you’re pitching well. You just want to keep it going, but I haven’t heard anything about Tuesday.”
Matt Breen’s observations from the Phillies’ loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field included a rough outing for reliever Connor Brogdon.
Columnist David Murphy channels aliens from outer space and the ghost of Gabe Kapler to point out that the Phillies have a lot of problems, which is why manager Joe Girardi is far from their biggest problem.
Our region is filled with first-round draft talent, including Bishop Eustace Prep’s Anthony Solometo, Mainland’s Chase Petty and Malvern Prep’s Lonnie White Jr. Year-round high-tech training has helped our area become a hotbed of talent.
Breen writes that Travis Jankowski has recovered from his bad first impression of being picked off at second base in a loss to the Washington Nationals and become a valuable bench player for the Phillies.
As promised by Girardi, struggling centerfielder Odúbel Herrera was not in the starting lineup for a second straight night against the Cubs Wednesday.
Tonight: Zach Eflin faces Adbert Alzolay in the series finale at Wrigley Field, 8:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez against Boston’s Garrett Richards in series opener at Fenway Park, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Matt Moore against Martin Perez, 4:10 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola faces former Phillie Nick Pivetta in final game before the All-Star break, 1:10 p.m.
Tuesday: All-Star Game in Denver, 7:30 p.m.
Stat of the day
On this date in 2007, the Phillies hit four home runs at Coors Field in an 8-4 win over the Colorado Rockies that took them into the All-Star break in third place, 4½ games behind the first-place New York Mets. That part sounds familiar. The Rockies also fell to 44-44 that day and were sitting in fourth place, 5½ games behind the division-leading San Diego Padres. The Phillies, of course, went on to win the NL East that season by overcoming a seven-game deficit with 17 games to play, and the Rockies won 14 of their final 15 games to claim a wild-card playoff berth on their way to the franchise’s first World Series appearance.
But the game wasn’t the top story that day. The Phillies’ impromptu aide to the Coors Field grounds crew stole the headlines. Before the top of the seventh inning, a violent thunderstorm with gusting winds whipped into the ballpark and several members of the grounds crew were trapped under the tarp as they attempted to cover the field. A large contingent of Phillies’ players rushed out of the visiting dugout and into action to help get the workers to safety and the tarp on the field.
After order was restored, the Phillies received a loud ovation from the crowd for their heroics.
“We thought guys might get hurt, so we went out there,” Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino said. “It was funny, I guess, to see us go out there and act like we knew what we were doing.”
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: ”In your opinion, would Bryce Harper ever ask to be traded if the Phillies continue to miss the playoffs? Granted the size of his contract would rule out many teams, and perhaps the Phillies would need to contribute some amount toward paying his salary. It just seems to me the team’s performance is not what he expected when he signed here.”
— Clyde H., via email
Answer: Thanks for the question Clyde, and sorry I had to condense it so much. I do think there could be a time in the future when Harper could ask to be traded, but I don’t think we are anywhere near that time right now. Even though things have not gone as planned, Harper knows that owner John Middleton wants to win, and he believes in president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s ability to turn things around. It’s easy to forget that Harper is only 28 years old because this is his 10th year in the big leagues, but he has some prime years remaining, provided his back holds up.