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Phillies exit Atlanta with 7 All-Stars, Schwarber, Harper back soon, and a first starter to consider

Phillies exit Atlanta with 7 All-Stars, Schwarber, Harper back soon, and a first starter to consider

ATLANTA — The hours leading up to Sunday’s series finale at Truist Park were a thrill for Philadelphia. Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber stepped onto the field and ran around the bases with determination and dedication under the watchful eyes of four Philadelphia officials. Everyone was cheering. Both players could be back on the court Tuesday.

Then everyone filed into the clubhouse at 12:25 p.m. for a club meeting. Manager Rob Thompson revealed that this team had more stars than any Philadelphia team had ever had. A quarter of the roster—seven players—received the honor. Four of them were first-time stars. There were cheers and hugs.

They then recovered from a 6-0 defeat to the Atlanta Braves, which ended shortly after it began.

Michael Mercado, who started his second game, couldn’t throw a strikeout or keep the ball in the outfield. It happens. But Philadelphia left this place eight games ahead of Atlanta and feeling like they had survived without Harper and Schwarber.

They’ve gone 5-4 without him. Schwarber will be in the lineup Tuesday against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. And Harper seems to be headed there.

“I feel good, we’ll see what happens,” Harper said.

Philadelphia could have capitalized on those opportunities. They knew the limits of their short-handed squad. They didn’t score in Saturday’s loss. They didn’t score on Sunday for just the third time this season. They had to avoid defeat at Truist Park, and Philadelphia did just that. They’ll 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 just how complete Philadelphia’s roster is. The seven All-Stars are a club record. Philadelphia has had five All-Stars six times — in 2011, 2009, 1995, 1981, 1979 and 1976. The National League record for the most players sent by a single club is eight — set by the 2023 Braves. Philadelphia narrowly missed.

Matt Strahum had a 1.59 ERA in 36 games. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today)

Matt Strahum and Jeff Hoffman, who formed one of the best duos in baseball, were selected to pitch in the game by player vote. Neither is a traditional shutout. It was a satisfying feeling for both pitchers, who were making their first All-Star appearances.

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“The way the game is going, I think guys are starting to realize you can’t win games in just the ninth inning,” Strahum said. “So it’s good to see that. It’s good for the game.”

The two players became close friends and elevated their game through a religious daily game of catch. During the Sunday morning meeting, Thompson called Strahom’s name first.

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

“I wasn’t expecting much,” Strahum said. “I was hoping Jeff would get the nod… He’s done an incredible job of turning his career around. He definitely deserves it.”

Ranger Suarez has 10 wins, 3 losses and a 2.58 ERA. (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

Ranger Suarez, who is second in the National League in earned run rate, is a candidate to start the mid-summer Classic. Philadelphia believes he may need a break to manage the increased workload, but they will defer to Suarez’s wishes.

“If I’m going to play, I want to play,” Suarez said. “I mean, it’s my first All-Star game. I want to feel the same way I felt when I first played in an All-Star game.”

“I want him to do what he wants, and I’m very comfortable with that,” Thompson said.

Zack Wheeler is not eligible to play in the game; he will start on the last day before the All-Star break. Harper said he intends to play in the All-Star Game. “Absolutely,” Harper said. It will be Harper’s first All-Star appearance as a Philadelphia player.

Philadelphia is more than excited to see him back in the starting lineup, and that could happen on Tuesday. They have six more games before the break. A big push would certainly help.

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

They have a decision to make about the outfield in the wake of Sunday’s loss. Philadelphia will consider different options for the fifth spot in the lineup. Mercado is scheduled to play again before the break: Friday against the Oakland A’s. He could still start that. Or Tyler Phillips, who scored some innings as a cleanup man on Sunday in his debut, could slide into the lineup.

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

Phillips began his major league career by striking out 12 batters for a team that included Matt Olson, Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud. Phillips looked at his best in four innings. The southern New Jersey native grew up a Philadelphia fan, and the accomplishment meant a lot to generations of Phillips children. Tyler’s father, Dan, was at Truist Park. Tyler’s 3-year-old son, Frank, was also at Truist Park, named for his late grandfather who taught him to love Philadelphia.

The 26-year-old right-hander became the first Philadelphia player to hit seven home runs in his major league debut since Cole Hamels in 2006. Hamels was one of Phillips’ favorite Philadelphia players growing up. Phillips showed Philadelphia 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 whatever I can to get as deep as I can. Obviously, I’ve never been a knockout pitcher. I hit a few knockouts today. I’ll take that as some adrenaline. Hopefully we can keep that going.”

Phillips and Mercado are in for a test now and later, when the Phillies need key players throughout the summer. They want to protect others in the starting lineup.

Taijuan Walker (blister) has been recovering with the team. He will participate in a relief pitching session at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday and could step up to face the batters in a controlled session over the weekend. He could need a minor league start at some point, but Philadelphia may have to speed things up if they want Walker in the starting lineup after the All-Star break.

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This All-Star Game will be special for Philadelphia. It reflects what Philadelphia has accomplished so far. They have bigger goals. The two unproductive days in Atlanta were disappointing but not depressing. That’s a testament to how good this team is right now.

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

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How Matt Strahum and Jeff Hoffman Became Catching Partners—and the Best Duo in Baseball

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Now an All-Star, Alec Bohm is enjoying the moments that shaped his major league career.

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Inside Suarez’s historic Rangers start, from the front row perspective of Aaron Nola

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