ATLANTA — A few hours before the Phillies played Monday night at Truist Park, Dave Dombrowski went up to infielder Johan Camargo and congratulated him on being presented with a 2021 World Series ring by the Atlanta Braves.
“You need to win a second one this year,” Dombrowski said, a smile plastered across his face.
It was only small talk, a front-office executive chatting it up with one of his players. But after one-quarter of the season, it’s hard to like Camargo’s chances. The Phillies win a few games, lose a few more. They hover around .500, never getting on a roll.
But just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in, be it with an improbable 10th-inning comeback Sunday at home against the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers or an ensuing 7-3 victory over the Braves to open a weeklong road trip.
“Any time you can win a few games in a row it’s a plus,” said Zack Wheeler, who allowed two runs in 6⅔ innings. “You pull that one off [Sunday] and come in here, a couple good teams, it gets you going.”
The Phillies are 20-22, 7½ games off the New York Mets’ pace in the National League East. But Dombrowski believes they are better than that, and, well, for ownership’s $240 million, they must be.
For one thing, he expects the most expensive lineup in club history to score runs more consistently, even in an environment in which baseballs aren’t carrying as far across the league.
The second and third innings against Braves lefty Tucker Davidson were what Dombrowski has in mind. The Phillies didn’t hit a home run. But they strung together four hits and two walks and took advantage of the Braves’ shoddy defense to score six runs, three in each inning, and stake Wheeler to a cushy lead.
Rhys Hoskins, as luckless as any Phillies slugger, delivered the big hit one day after taking out his frustration on a dugout trash can. He cleared the bases in the second inning with a double that split the gap in right-center field and rolled to the wall.
J.T. Realmuto, stuck in 2-for-28 (and 8-for-53) misery, slashed a two-out RBI triple inside the third-base bag and down the left-field line in the third inning before Roman Quinn lifted a two-run double that fell between Braves center fielder Adam Duvall and right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr.
Kyle Schwarber, doing his best impression of a leadoff hitter from the No. 6 spot in the lineup, saw 23 pitches, worked three walks, and scored twice in successive innings from the second to the fourth.
The Phillies could’ve had more, too. They finished 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, left 10 runners on base, and failed to bust open the game enough that manager Joe Girardi didn’t need to use closer Corey Knebel in the ninth inning.
Still, some of the hitters who needed it most were able to deliver.
“It reminds me of some of my old teammates, where they’d talk about how they’d sit up in bed at night and scream,” Girardi said. “Hitting’s a nightmare. It really is. Sometimes you’re going good, sometimes you’re not, and you don’t understand why because you feel the same. You’ve got to just keep grinding and working.
“We had a bunch of good at-bats tonight. There were a lot of good things that happened.”
And the Phillies won in the unconventional fashion in which they are built. They accumulated a lead that was bullpen-proof, despite some mild cuticle-chomping, once Wheeler left in the seventh inning after 105 pitches.
“We’re not happy with our record at this point,” Dombrowski said. “That can get better. But I think we have a good ballclub. I think we realize that.”
Sometimes, like in the opener of a series against the defending World Series champs, they even play like it.
Wheeler, who grew up in suburban Atlanta, dominated his hometown team for most of the game, eight of 10 batters at one point and racking up 10 strikeouts overall. Since 2020, he has a 1.87 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 53 innings over eight starts against the Braves.
But this was the best part for the Phillies: Wheeler’s fastball averaged 96.3 mph, better than his season average of 95.8 mph. It’s the latest sign that he’s back to his near-Cy Young form after barely pitching in spring training.
In his last five starts, Wheeler has allowed five earned runs in 32⅔ innings (1.38 ERA) and racked up 40 strikeouts. He credits his slider for the resurgence.
“It’s kind of a new shape for me,” said Wheeler, who got eight of his 20 swings and misses with the slider. “It’s not so much downward. It’s more slidey. I think that’s playing a little bit better. It’s in the zone, then it’s kind of sliding out.”
Wheeler is scheduled to face the Mets, his former team, Saturday night in New York.
Quinn throws 100
Fresh off scoring from second base on a booted infield grounder in Sunday’s breathtaking walk-off victory, Quinn was back in center field and still making a game-changing impact.
The Braves had a runner on second and one out in the first inning when Quinn charged Marcell Ozuna’s single and threw a one-hop strike to nail William Contreras at the plate.
“I fielded the ball cleanly, I peeped up and seen that he was running, and had my momentum going towards home plate,” Quinn said. “I just let it eat. It was big. It was a big play.”
Said Wheeler: “It kind of pumped me up.”
So what if Contreras is a slow runner. Quinn’s peg was clocked at 99.9 mph, the second-fastest outfield assist in baseball this season, according to Statcast.