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Phillies Notebook: Zack Wheeler sharp and speedy in beating the Nationals

PHILADELPHIA — Zack Wheeler has been very good at times this season, at other times not so much.

One of those lesser outings was Wheeler’s last appearance, when he lasted only four innings and allowed six earned runs on the way to 7-6 Phillies loss in Miami last Sunday.

While Citizens Bank Park in mid-May isn’t Miami, Wheeler got into the spirit of things Friday night, celebrating at least a temporary return of warmer and drier weather here by limiting the Washington Nationals to a pair of runs over 7 1/3 innings and nailing down a 4-2 victory.

While it was a rather typical winning Wheeler outing, he definitely showed more zip on his fastball than he had in some time, hitting 98 with seeming ease along the way. So why?

“It’s a little warmer out, so that definitely helps,” Wheeler said. “And I think I’m just feeling a little better with what I’m doing out there. But I think the biggest thing is probably the weather.”

Wheeler was a little wilder than usual early, allowing three walks, and he was touched for single runs in the second and fifth innings. But he also allowed only three hits until he was relieved by Jose Alvarado in the eighth inning, and never did it seem the Phillies (32-14) were in much danger of dropping a second straight game.

“I thought his stuff was as good as I’ve seen all year,” manager Rob Thomson said of Wheeler. “The velocity (was) up, splitter was good, he threw a lot more four-seam (fastballs) than two-seams against left-handed hitters. He was really good.”

• • •

Thomson seemed rather confident Friday that Taijuan Walker was in line to make his next start, which would likely come Wednesday against the Texas Rangers.

This just a day after Walker was stung on the left foot by a hard-hit ball smacked by the Mets’ Starling Marte. X-rays of the left big toe and area around it were negative.

“So, still not 100 percent sure that he makes his next start, but it’s trending that way,” Thomson said Friday before his club’s series opener against the Washington Nationals. “Last night, he couldn’t even move his toe. Now he can, he can put weight on it and he can move it around.

“He got x-rays but there was nothing there.”

Walker was in the fourth inning when he was hit by the Marte burner. To that point, Walker had allowed two runs on four hits and a pair of walks. If the Phillies decide to rest him for a start – not Thomson’s preference, but there it is – they do have Spencer Turnbull in the bullpen ready, able and more than willing to return to the starting pitcher role he had for the first five weeks of the season.

That was while Walker was on the shelf with another injury. Turnbull, signed to fill the long man out of the bullpen role, is 2-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 0.913 WHIP. He was carrying an ERA of below 1 for a while as a starter.

“He threw three innings the other night,” Thomson said of Turnbull, referencing the reliever’s stint Wednesday against the Mets, allowing a season-high three earned runs. “So he’s kind of an emergency guy (Friday night). But we’ll know a little bit more about Taijuan tomorrow.”

• • •

It was a “recovery day” for Trea Turner on Friday, after a few days of working a rehab that seemingly has him ahead of schedule in his recovery from a hamstring strain. Well, ahead of schedule if a schedule had ever been made available.

“We’re in the buildup part of it,” Thomson said. “Recovery day today. It’s really just making sure he doesn’t have a re-injury. We have to build him up properly because those things can rear (their) ugly head any moment.

“He’s doing really well.”

Asked if he thought Turner would have to be reeled in a bit in his exuberance to get back on the playing field, Thomson said, “Not really … the trainers are very happy with where he’s at. He’s doing the stuff, he’s getting it done and I think he’s being very careful with it.”

• • •

The Phillies have improved in so many areas this young season that strikeout rate … is only one area.

But the club that finished with the eighth-highest team strikeout total (1,481) in 2023 had 389 through 46 games entering play Friday. And while, yes, that’s still too many, it puts them at the 11th most of all 30 MLB teams.

So … getting better?

“Yeah,” Thomson said. “Kevin (Long, the Phillies’ hitting coach) and the hitting coaches really emphasized that during spring training. After the playoffs last year we sat down and said, ‘OK, this is something we have to really hit hard during the spring, and during the offseason before spring. So those guys have done a really good job of it.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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