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Zack Wheeler propels Phillies to win with bat and arm

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PHILADELPHIA – Zack Wheeler made hitting look easy and impossible Saturday afternoon.

The easy part came when Phillies starting pitcher was at the plate. Despite not having a regular-season at-bat since 2019, he went 2 for 3 with two RBIS as Philadelphia beat the Atlanta Braves 4-0 before 8,582 fans at Citizens Bank Park.

"You take pride in it," Wheeler said of hitting. "If you're going up there, you might as well try. I was just trying to move the runners and keep the innings going."

The impossible part came when Wheeler was on the mound.

He allowed one hit and struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings. Wheeler retired the last 17 hitters he faced.

He struck out the first batter he saw - Braves leadoff hitter Ronald Acuna Jr. - with a 99.5 mph sinker in the top of the first.

Wheeler struck out the last batter he saw – Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna - with a 97.2 mph fastball to end the seventh inning.

"The first inning or two I wasn't getting ahead of guys like I wanted to," Wheeler said. "As the game went on, I did a little better job with that. When you've got everything working - fastball, change, curve, slider - and you're placing it where you want it to it makes it a lot easier."

But as dominant as Wheeler was on the mound, it was his exploits with the bat that was the talk of the game.

Saturday’s was Wheeler’s fifth career multi-hit game. It comes at a time when many in baseball are calling for the universal designated hitter.

Wheeler entered this season as a .150 career hitter. He did bat .211 with a home run and six RBIs in 2019 with the New York Mets. Pitchers did not hit last season as the NL used the designated hitter to try to prevent injuries during the pandemic.

"Easy game," Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said with a laugh. "He takes 18 months off from hitting and in his first game he gets two knocks. Hard to beat a guy like that on the mound when he's beating you like that at the plate."

Wheeler got his first hit in the fifth inning. He stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs.

At the time, the game was scoreless, and Wheeler was involved in what appeared to be a classic pitching duel with Braves starter Charlie Morton.

Wheeler hit the first pitch he saw – a 94 mph fastball from Morton – into centerfield for an RBI single.

The left-handed Wheeler’s second hit was more impressive. It also came with two outs. He lined a 95.2 mph fastball from Braves left-handed reliever Sean Newcomb down the left-field line for an RBI double to make it 4-0 Phillies.

"As a pitcher, you're going to see a fastball," Wheeler said. "You just have to be ready to hit it. I know it sounds simple and kind of dumb, but it's the truth."

As for his performance on the mound, the top of the fifth illustrates how dominant Wheeler was.

He struck out Travis d’Arnaud and Austin Riley looking at 90.7 and 92.3 mph sliders, respectively.

In between those outs, Wheeler struck out Dansby Swanson swinging at a 98.5 mph fastball.

"When his stuff is on, it's electric," Phillis manager Joe Girardi said of Wheeler. "When he's locating on both sides of the plate, good luck."

It was Wheeler's ninth career double-digit strikeout game and his first with the Phillies. The only hit Wheeler allowed was a d’Arnaud clean single to center field in the top of the second.

The Phillies (2-0) will try to sweep the Braves when starting pitcher Zach Eflin takes the mound in the series finale at 1:05 p.m. Sunday.

There are 160 games left, but after nine straight years without a winning record or a playoff appearance, Philadelphia needed to get off to a winning start this season.

They needed to convince fans this is a team worth investing time in.

So far, so good.

Contact: 609-272-7185
MMcGarry@PressofAC.com
Twitter @ACPressMcGarry
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