WASHINGTON — This was the state of the Phillies’ bullpen when Joe Girardi showed up to work Tuesday:
Archie Bradley had pitched three days in a row.
Héctor Neris went two innings Monday night.
Connor Brogdon was headed to the injured list with right elbow tendinitis.
Newly acquired closer Ian Kennedy had thrown 49 pitches in the last two days.
“We have to piece it together,” Girardi said, shrugging.
The bullpen jigsaw puzzle is more easily solved when Zack Wheeler starts, and the All-Star ace dazzled for much of Tuesday night’s 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals. He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning or a run until the seventh. It helped, too, that Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Ronald Torreyes, and Bryce Harper smashed home runs.
But even then, after Wheeler gave up a two-run homer to Josh Bell in the eighth inning, the Phillies had five outs to get and a limited number of relievers to get them.
Girardi called on Neris, the deposed closer, to get out of the eighth inning. He did. Then he turned to erratic lefty José Alvarado, who fell behind the first batter before coming back to retire the side, including a game-ending strikeout of pinch-hitting Riley Adams.
No sweat, right?
With the victory, the Phillies climbed back above .500 (54-53) and inched to within 1½ games (two in the loss column) of the division-leading New York Mets, who lost again in Miami. It’s the closest the Phillies have been to first place since May 25, when they were 1½ games back.
“We’re getting there,” Wheeler said. “These are the games that we need to win. It doesn’t really matter how you win them, as long as you win them. We’re keeping track [of the Mets], and hopefully we can continue this.”
Girardi didn’t know for certain if Neris would be available after his two-inning, 26-pitch stint in relief of Ranger Suárez on Monday night. But after checking with him on the field in batting practice, Girardi determined he could use him for a couple of outs.
That’s precisely what Neris got.
“I felt great,” said Neris, who mixed a sinker into his usual splitter-fastball repertoire and got Carter Kieboom to foul out before striking out Luis Garcia. “He asked me, and he knew I was ready today. I didn’t throw too many pitches yesterday, and I felt great to be back to the mound today.”
Since his six-run implosion on the Fourth of July against the San Diego Padres, Neris hasn’t allowed a run in 11 of his last 12 appearances, posting a 1.98 ERA over that stretch.
“He’s been able to get a ton of big outs for us over this last month,” Girardi said. “We got him back. He went through a tough period. He kept working. They made some minor adjustments, and he’s throwing the ball exceptionally well for us right now.”
A Bryce bomb
It has been three seasons since Harper played his home games at Nationals Park, yet he still has hit the second-most homers here. No. 98 came in the eighth inning and turned out to be the difference in the game.
As he crossed home plate, Harper blew kisses and waved to the booing Nationals fans.
Powered by vanilla?
Segura crushed the first pitch of the game — and took a long look as it sailed into the left-field bleachers — for his 12th career leadoff home run and third in 25 games atop the order this season.
But social media was still buzzing about his at-bat in the ninth inning Monday night.
As Segura dug in against Nationals reliever Wander Suero, a television microphone captured a fan shouting, “Segura, what’s your favorite ice cream?” Without breaking focus, Segura yelled back, “Vanilla,” before lining a game-tying double in the gap in right-center field.
Slugging spark plug
Girardi likes to joke that he has been a witness to every home run hit by Torreyes in the major leagues. Until this year, it wasn’t a long list.
In 639 plate appearances from 2015-20, Torreyes went deep four times, all with the New York Yankees and with Girardi was his manager. In 191 plate appearances this season, the 5-foot-8 utility infielder has five homers, including a two-run shot against Corbin in the seventh inning.
“I call it ‘Little Guy Power,’” Neris said. “It’s fun to see him play. He’s a guy that you want to see there. He’s a low-key guy on the team. He’s a hero.”
Indeed, Torreyes has been the Phillies’ unsung hero. And with Didi Gregorius still feeling the effects of ongoing treatment for pseudogout, a rare condition that caused painful swelling of his right elbow, Torreyes figures to continue to get starts at shortstop, especially against left-handed pitchers.