Phillies exit Atlanta with 7 All-Stars, Schwarber and Harper back soon, and a debut to ponder

ATLANTA — The hours before Sunday’s series finale at Truist Park were glorious for the Phillies. Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber stepped on the dirt and ran the bases with intent under the watchful eyes of four Phillies officials. Everyone was encouraged. Both sluggers could return on Tuesday.

Then, they all went inside for a 12:25 p.m. clubhouse meeting. Manager Rob Thomson revealed that this team has more All-Stars than any Phillies team before it. A quarter of the roster — seven players — received the honor. Four of them are first-time All-Stars. There was cheering and hugging.

And, after that, they slogged through a 6-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves that was over soon after it began.

Michael Mercado, a rookie making his second start, could not throw strikes or keep the ball in the yard. It happens. But the Phillies left here eight games ahead of Atlanta and feeling as if they survived the time without Harper and Schwarber.

They are 5-4 without them. Schwarber will be in Tuesday’s lineup against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. Harper is trending toward it.

“I feel good,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

The Phillies could use them. They are seeing the limits of a depleted lineup. They did not have an extra-base hit in Saturday’s loss. They were held scoreless Sunday for only the third time this season. A compromised roster had to avoid being swept at Truist Park, and the Phillies accomplished that. They will look different the next time they come here in late August.

This is a team built on its stars, but somehow the All-Star announcements showed how complete a roster the Phillies have built. The seven All-Stars are a club record. The Phillies have had five All-Stars six times — 2011, 2009, 1995, 1981, 1979 and 1976. The National League record for most players sent by one club is eight — done by the 2023 Braves. The Phillies fell just short.

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Matt Strahm has a 1.59 ERA in 36 appearances. (Rick Osentoski / USA Today)

Matt Strahm and Jeff Hoffman, who have formed one of the best bullpen duos in baseball, were voted into the game via the player ballot. Neither is a traditional closer. It was a satisfying feeling for both pitchers, who are first-time All-Stars.

“The way the game’s going,” Strahm said, “I think guys are starting to see that you win ballgames not only in the ninth inning. So it’s good to see. It’s good for the game.”

The two relievers have become close friends and have elevated their games through a religious daily game of catch. Thomson, during Sunday morning’s meeting, called Strahm’s name first.

“That probably took more of a weight off my shoulders,” Hoffman said, “than hearing my own name called.”

“I wasn’t expecting much,” Strahm said. “I was hoping Jeff would get the nod. … He’s done an unbelievable job with how he’s turned his career around. He’s so deserving of it.”

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Ranger Suárez is 10-3 with a 2.58 ERA. (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

Ranger Suárez, who ranks second in the National League in ERA, is a candidate to start the midsummer classic. The Phillies believe he could use a break to manage a mounting workload, but they will defer to Suárez’s wishes.

“If I’m going, I want to pitch,” Suárez said. “I mean, it’s my first All-Star Game. I want to have that feeling of my first All-Star appearance.”

“I want him to do what he wants to do,” Thomson said. “I’m pretty comfortable with it.”

Zack Wheeler is not eligible to pitch; he will start on the final day before the All-Star break. Harper said he intends to play in the All-Star Game. “For sure,” Harper said. It’ll be the first time Harper appears in an All-Star Game as a Phillie.

The Phillies are more excited to see him back in the lineup, and that could happen Tuesday. They have six more games before the break. A strong push would help.

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Tyler Phillips allowed one run in four innings in his major-league debut. (Brett Davis / USA Today)

They have pitching decisions to make in the wake of Sunday’s loss. The Phillies will consider various options for the fifth spot in the rotation. Mercado is slated to pitch one more time before the break: Friday against the Oakland A’s. He could still make that start. Or Tyler Phillips, who logged some innings as a mop-up man Sunday in his debut, could slide into the rotation.

“We have to discuss some things,” Thomson said.

Phillips struck out the side — Matt Olson, Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud — on 12 pitches to begin his big-league career. He looked sharp in four innings. The South Jersey native was raised as a Phillies fan and this accomplishment meant a lot to generations of Phillipses. Tyler’s father, Dan, was at Truist Park. So was Tyler’s 3-year-old son, Frank, who is named after his late grandfather who taught him to love the Phillies.

The 26-year-old righty became the first Phillies pitcher with seven strikeouts in his big-league debut since Cole Hamels in 2006. Hamels was one of Phillips’ favorite Phillies players growing up. Phillips showed the Phillies something.

“I hope so,” he said. “I knew I had a role today. I had a job. I just want the ball. Give me the ball, and I’m going to go out there and do everything I can to go as deep as I can. Obviously, in my past, I’ve never been a strikeout pitcher. I had a few more strikeouts today. I’m going to chalk that up to some adrenaline. Hopefully, we can just keep that going.”

Phillips and Mercado are auditioning for now and later, when the Phillies will need spot starters throughout the summer. They want to protect others in the rotation.

Taijuan Walker (blister) has been rehabbing with the team. He will throw a bullpen session Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park and could progress to face hitters in a controlled session over the weekend. He could need a minor-league start at some point, but the Phillies might have to accelerate things if they want Walker in the rotation soon after the All-Star break ends.

That All-Star Game will have a distinct Phillies slant. It’s a reflection of what the Phillies have accomplished so far. They have bigger goals. Two unproductive days in Atlanta were disappointing but not derailing. That is a testament to how good it is right now.

“The front office has built a really good roster,” Thomson said. “And I’m proud of the seven guys.”



How Matt Strahm and Jeff Hoffman became catch partners — and baseball’s best bullpen duo



Now an All-Star starter, Alec Bohm revels in the moments that shaped his big-league path



Inside Ranger Suárez’s historic start, from Aaron Nola’s front-row view

(Top photo of Jeff Hoffman: Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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