Braves dominated by Zack Wheeler in loss to Phillies

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) throws a simulated game before a spring training game March 23, 2021, against the Boston Red Sox in North Port, Fla. (John Bazemore/AP)
Caption
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) throws a simulated game before a spring training game March 23, 2021, against the Boston Red Sox in North Port, Fla. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

The Braves lost to the Phillies 4-0 on Saturday in Philadelphia. They were stifled by Phillies starter Zack Wheeler, who produced one of the best days of his career with seven scoreless innings, along with two hits and two RBIs.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday:

1. Wheeler, who’s seen the Braves often as a former Met and current Phillie, was as dominant as he’s been against the Braves. He allowed one hit – a single by Travis d’Arnaud in the second inning – and retired the final 17 Braves he faced.

“That’s probably as good as I’ve seen him,” manager Brian Snitker said of Wheeler. “I think I looked up at one point, and he had 46 strikes and 16 balls or something. That stuff was live.”

While the Braves had some strong swings against Aaron Nola on opening day, such contact was harder to manage against Wheeler. He was pumping high-90s fastballs while showing pinpoint placement, resulting in 10 strikeouts (two shy of his career high) and no walks.

2. Charlie Morton was phenomenal for 4-2/3 innings in his first start back with the Braves, delivering pitches with eye-popping movement and precision. But his afternoon unraveled with two down in the fifth.

The Phillies sent nine batters to the plate and scored three times in the inning. A two-strike single by Jean Segura and Roman Quinn’s hit by pitch kept the Phillies alive with two outs, positioning Wheeler to knock a ball over Ozzie Albies and snap the scoreless tie. Morton then walked Andrew McCutchen, setting up Rhys Hoskins’ two-RBI double.

“It all started with that two-strike curveball to Segura,” Morton said. “That’s just not a well-executed pitch, especially to an aggressive hitter. Then I hit Quinn with a curveball. The Wheeler hit, I can’t even believe he swung at that pitch, but he had a great game overall. Then the Hoskins hit. I don’t know. I felt like in that inning it just started with that Segura pitch, really, then hitting Quinn. I just have to do a better job there in a two-strike count. The guys were playing some great defense behind me, and I feel like I squandered it there in the fifth.”

None of the hits Morton surrendered in the inning were particularly hard. They found the right spots. That type of luck has eluded the Braves thus far, especially on opening day, when the team repeatedly hit Nola hard but had little to show for it.

3. That said, Wheeler’s exit still didn’t awaken the Braves’ bats. Archie Bradley retired the Braves 1-2-3 in the eighth. Hector Neris recorded a clean ninth. Overall, the Phillies retired the last 23 Braves in order. Braves hitters struck out 14 times.

The Braves have scored two runs in 19 innings this season. Both came on Pablo Sandoval’s pinch-hit shot on opening day. The Braves’ offense started slowly last season, too, when facing Jacob deGrom and the Mets’ pitching. Credit to Nola, Wheeler and the remade Phillies bullpen for silencing a potent Braves offense so far.

“That’s two pretty good pitchers you had to start the season out with,” Snitker said. “We’ll be fine.”

4. Sean Newcomb had a nice spring, and the Braves were hopeful a transition back to the bullpen would increase the southpaw’s production, but his 2021 campaign didn’t start well. Newcomb entered in the sixth and walked Alec Bohm in a 10-pitch at-bat. He hit Didi Gregorius five pitches later. He struck out the next two to bring up Wheeler, which on-paper gave Newcomb a great chance to end the frame.

The Phillies’ starter notched his second hit, doubling down the left-field line, scoring the Phillies’ fourth run and ending Newcomb’s outing. It was a discouraging appearance for Newcomb, who showed the same command struggles that have plagued his career. The Braves will hope Newcomb rediscovers the aggressiveness he developed as a reliever in 2019.

5. When the Braves first shifted Ronald Acuna to right field, they repeatedly mentioned how valuable his arm will be in that spot. He showed it again Saturday, throwing out Bryce Harper at second base on an attempted double. Dansby Swanson applied the tag, which ended the first inning.

Stat of the game

2:1 (Wheeler had two hits, doubling the Braves’ total)

Quotable

“That was rough. That was a rough day, man, trying to hit.” - Snitker on Wheeler’s performance

Next up

The Braves and Phillies conclude their series Sunday when Ian Anderson faces Zach Eflin. It will be Anderson’s first career outing against the Phillies, the only NL East team he didn’t face last season.

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