PHILADELPHIA — Good teams find ways to win when some things aren’t clicking, and for the Phillies, that thing, right now, is their offense. So, on Thursday night they beat the reigning World Series champions with their pitching.
Clinging onto just a one run lead — that came from a Matt Vierling sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second — the Phillies’ pitching staff allowed just six hits and two walks against the Braves, a team that ranks second in baseball in OPS, with .760. Ranger Suarez gave the Phillies one of his best starts in weeks, Zach Eflin — who has activated off the 15-day injured list just 10 days ago — showed up in a high leverage spot. And José Alvarado closed the door with a four-out save, allowing just one hit with one strikeout.
Facing the Braves at home in the midst of a postseason race, after the Phillies had been swept in Atlanta just days earlier, was always going to be a tough assignment. But the Phillies showed grit on Thursday night, and they did it at a time when they don’t have much room for error.
Another good outing for Suárez
On Wednesday night, after the Phillies came from behind to win a must-win game in extra innings, interim manager Rob Thomson was asked if he thought it could spur some momentum for his team.
“Well, they say momentum is as good as your next starter, and we have Ranger (Suárez) going tomorrow, so I feel pretty good about that,” he said.
Thomson felt good for good reason. After a string of rough starts in late August and early September, Suárez went to Atlanta last weekend and gave the Phillies six innings of one-run ball with three walks. On Thursday night, he was even better. The left-handed pitcher went six innings and allowed just five hits, allowing no runs with two walks. He threw 83 pitches and 53 strikes. It was one of his better starts of the season.
The most trouble Suárez ran into came in the top of the sixth inning. He allowed a double to Austin Riley, and with two outs, he walked both Matt Olson and Vaughn Grissom to load the bases. But Michael Harris II grounded out to first base to end the inning.
Long gets tossed
In the bottom of the fifth inning, while Dalton Guthrie was facing Braves starter Max Fried in a 3-2 count, home plate umpire Andy Fletcher called one of Fried’s 86 mph sliders a strike. The ball was outside the strike zone, and Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long started yelling at Fletcher from the dugout. Eventually, Long got tossed from the game (but in his defense, it was probably one of the worst ball-strike calls of the season).
Zach Eflin success story continues
The Zach Eflin bullpen experiment has been successful so far, so Thomson said prior to Thursday’s game that he would start using Eflin in higher-leverage innings. That decision paid off. The right-handed pitcher, who came off the injured list just 10 days ago, needed only six pitches to retire Marcell Ozuna, Robbie Grossman and Dansby Swanson in the top of the seventh on Thursday night.
From there, Eflin struck out William Contreras, hit Austin Riley with a pitch, and struck out Travis d’Arnaud. The Riley hit-by-pitch was yet another call by Fletcher that was Phillies took issue with, but after Thomson challenged it, the call was upheld.
In all, Eflin threw one and two-thirds innings, allowing no hits, no runs and no walks with three strikeouts — and needed only 15 pitches to do so. At a time when the Phillies are in need of innings eaters, and reliable bullpen arms, Eflin’s emergence as a shutdown reliever has been a welcome development for them.©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.