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Phillies do what they've done best to beat Nationals in series opener

Phillies do what they've done best to beat Nationals in series opener originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Life's a lot easier as a pitcher, hitter or manager when you're playing from ahead, and the Phillies have done it five days a week all season.

The Phils jumped the Nationals Friday on a beautiful night at Citizens Bank Park, scoring once in the first inning, twice in the second and again in the third. Unlike his uncharacteristic start Sunday in Miami, Zack Wheeler made it hold up in a 4-2 win.

The Phillies have scored 71 runs in the first two innings of games this season — 12 more than the next-closest MLB team (Texas) and 28 more than the league average.

The Phils are 32-14 on the season and have struck first 32 times, going 24-8 in those games.

“It just puts people on their heels right away, and as you get later into the game, I think offenses start to get a little antsy,” manager Rob Thomson said. “You start swinging early and trying to do too much.”

Alec Bohm has been a humongous part of their fast starts. He drove in the game's first run in the first inning, doubling down the right-field line with two outs to score J.T. Realmuto from first. Bohm is 13-for-24 in the first inning this season, hitting .542 with seven doubles, two home runs and 15 RBI.

The early offense seems to be becoming a piece of this team’s personality.

“I hope so. I really hope so,” Brandon Marsh said. “Getting going early with the staff that we’ve got and bullpen to close it down, if we get some early runs, we’ve got a really good chance. I really hope that’s the case for the Phils.”

The Phillies pushed two more across in the bottom of the second. Marsh and Edmundo Sosa reached base and nine-hole hitter Johan Rojas advanced them with a groundout. Nationals starter Jake Irvin threw a wild pitch to score Marsh, then Kyle Schwarber plated Sosa with a three-foot dribbler up the first-base line. On the prior pitch, Schwarber narrowly missed a 425-foot home run to the right of the foul pole. He'd take either result.

It looked early like Wheeler's night might follow a similar formula to his last start against the Marlins. Both times, he was crisp in a 1-2-3 first inning. Both times, he walked two batters and allowed a run in the second inning. But while he unraveled in the third and fourth innings over the weekend, this time he locked in, retiring nine of 10. He allowed just two runs on three hits over 7⅓ innings, both on diving/sliding plays barely Rojas and Nick Castellanos just missed.

Wheeler's fastball averaged a season-best 96.4 mph, nearly two mph above his 2024 average.

“It was a little warmer out so that definitely helps,” Wheeler said. “And I don’t know, maybe I’m just feeling a little bit better with what I’m doing out there. I think the biggest thing is probably the weather.”

He also once again completely controlled the running game, which is no easy task against Washington. The Nationals are second in the majors to the Reds in stolen bases and swiped five in their lone win over the Phillies this season back on April 7 in D.C.

Wheeler is in his fifth season as a Phillie and there have been just 16 stolen bases in 28 attempts with him on the mound. That's one steal every seven starts. The primary reason is that he doesn't put many runners on base, period. When he does, he's relatively quick to the plate and does a good job of varying his times.

He is 5-3 with a 2.52 ERA through 10 starts.

Jose Alvarado picked up the final two outs of the eighth inning, popping up lefties CJ Abrams and Eddie Rosario. Jeff Hoffman, who is up to 14⅔ innings since his last earned run, pitched the ninth for his third save. The bullpen has locked down lead after lead this season. The Phillies are 27-1 when leading after six innings, 28-1 when leading after seven and 28-0 when leading after eight.

“It’s huge. It’s like we’ve got four or five closers down there that have been in that role at some point,” Thomson said. “They all have power stuff. It’s good, it allows you to be flexible.”

The Phils still have not lost a series since their second of the season, going 9-0-4 in the 13 since. They'll earn another with a win Saturday or Sunday.

Saturday is a lefty duel between Cristopher Sanchez (2-3, 3.43) and Mackenzie Gore (2-4, 3.38).

Sunday is Aaron Nola (5-2, 3.10) against Trevor Williams, who is 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA but is being limited to 80 pitches per start.