CHICAGO — The ninth pitch Zack Wheeler threw Wednesday night was grounded softly to the left side of the infield, bouncing perfectly to shortstop Didi Gregorius for what seemed like the second out of the first inning.
An 8-3 loss to the Cubs was Wheeler’s final start of the first half and it seemed like he would begin the game with a stress-free inning.
But Gregorius botched the grounder, the runner was safe at first, and a frustrating night started to unravel. The Cubs scored three two-out runs after the error and scored seven times, four of which were earned, against Wheeler in 5⅔ innings.
“Tonight wasn’t very fun,” Wheeler said.
Perhaps his 18th start of the season would have gone differently had Gregorius made that play.
“It’s my job to get another ground ball or whatever it may be and get us out of that,” Wheeler said. “They hit a lot of bloops. I was making my pitches. It’s just one of those days.”
Wheeler struck out six, allowed eight hits, and will go to the All-Star Game with a 2.26 ERA. The Phillies do not know yet when Wheeler will make his next start for them as their rotation schedule will depend on how he is used Tuesday by National League manager Dave Roberts.
Wheeler could be in line to start NL as Jacob deGrom, who pitched Wednesday for the Mets, said he will not travel to Colorado for the game. Wheeler’s ERA is the seventh-best among NL starters and his 145 strikeouts trail only deGrom among NL pitchers.
“I think it’s been pretty good,” Wheeler said of his first half. “Tonight wasn’t how I wanted to finish it, but it is what it is.”
The Phillies won the first two games of the four-game series by a combined 28-13. They pummeled the Cubs, who entered Wednesday mired in an 11-game losing streak, for two nights but it was the Phils who took the punches on their third night at Wrigley Field.
“Those are killers,” manager Joe Girardi said of the Cubs’ eight two-out runs. “Those can be demoralizing when those types of things happen because you’re so close to getting out of every inning. We were tonight and we just weren’t able to do it. And that was the difference in the game.”
The Cubs scored three times in the first after Gregorius’ error. Wheeler allowed two more runs in the second when Anthony Rizzo and Wilson Contreras had back-to-back RBI hits. He retired the next nine batters he faced before running into trouble in the sixth, which forced Girardi to call on his shaky bullpen.
“I felt fine but it’s ultimately Joe’s decision,” Wheeler said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Brogdon’s rough night
Connor Brogdon gave the Phillies two key innings on Monday night, but he couldn’t deliver on Wednesday. Girardi inserted Brogdon with two outs in the sixth inning after Wheeler walked Ian Happ to put runners on first and second.
“The last hitter, his velocity was down a little bit,” Girardi said of Wheeler. “I just get concerned with how much we’ve worked him. We still have a long ways to go. I don’t ever want to take him out, but I also have to manage his workload.”
Joc Pederson roped an RBI single to left and Patrick Wisdom doubled down the left-field line as the Cubs tacked on two more. A two-run deficit was now a five-run hole. Brogdon has had nights this season like Monday when he looks like a dependable bullpen arm. But nights like Wednesday make him hard to trust in big spots.
“I like Brogdon against lefties,” Girardi said of using the right-handed reliever against the left-handed Pederson. “We knew we were going to him to just finish that inning. ... I didn’t really want to bring [Jose] Alvarado in there. So those were my choices.”
McCutchen keeps going
Andrew McCutchen is following up his terrific June with a strong July. He homered in the sixth inning to get the Phillies within two runs before Brogdon stumbled. Since June 1, McCutchen has raised his OPS (.799) by 118 points. He has homered in two straight games and has four extra-base hits in the first three games of the series.
The momentum from McCutchen’s two-run homer quickly dissipated when Alec Bohm made the third out of the inning at second after he slid off the bag. Gregorius worked a two-out walk and Bohm hit a sharp grounder that was misplayed by Wisdom at third.
The Phillies would have had the go-ahead run at the plate had Bohm stayed on second when he slid, but he was tagged out after his leg came off. The inning ended and the rally stalled.
Zach Eflin starts Thursday night’s series finale against Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay. Eflin has allowed three earned runs in his last two starts, but the Phils have won just two of his last nine outings.