Kyle Schwarber
Kyle Schwarber was 0-for-4 on Friday. | PHOTO: Kirk Berglander
Rarely does a game featuring a pair of Cy Young contenders exceed expectations, especially in late March, but that's precisely what unfolded on Friday at a sold-out Citizens Bank Park. 

Initially, at least.  

The Philadelphia bullpen, however, failed to uphold Zach Wheeler's outstanding performance, enabling the Braves to mount a late-game comeback and cruise to a 9-3 win over the Phillies in the season opener for both clubs.

"Everyone came in excited looking forward to today, but it didn't end the way we wanted to," said Kyle Schwarber. "It's day one, and now we have to move on to day two and be able to show up tomorrow and be ready to go."

Both starting pitchers were dominant, with Brandon Marsh's two-run shot in the fifth being the lone dent on either's performance. Atlanta's Spencer Strider held his ground for five innings, conceding the two runs on three hits while tallying an impressive eight strikeouts. Wheeler matched his counterpart, pitching six scoreless innings, yielding five hits while recording five strikeouts of his own. 

The Braves capitalized following Wheeler's departure in the seventh inning, taking advantage of reliever Matt Strahm, who surrendered three hits, including a pair of doubles in the sixth. This allowed Atlanta to even the contest at 2-2, with pinch-hitter Adam Duvall delivering the key hit with a double down the right field corner. Matt Olson then led off the eighth inning with a double against Jose Alvarado, eventually scoring on a Michael Harris II blooper single to center, securing a 3-2 lead.

Then, the flood gates opened. 

The Phillies' bullpen combined to allow nine runs on eight hits, five walks, and a wild pitch over three innings. Five of the runs were charged to Alvarado, two to Connor Brogdon, and two to Strahm. 

It's important to note, that Alvarado surrendered just eight earned runs all of last season.

"It was very uncharacteristic of our entire bullpen, those last three innings," manager Rob Thomson said. "All the walks, it seemed the guys just didn't have a feel for throwing strikes." 

"That's baseball," added Alvarado. "Today is over though, now to be ready for tomorrow." 

Marsh accounted for the Phils lone offensive highlight, connecting with a Strider four-seamer in the fifth inning and driving it into the seats in left-center field for a two-run homer. Bryson Stott, who ignited the inning with a leadoff single, contributed the additional run.

The Phillies collected just five hits on the afternoon and whiffed 15 times. The top four spots in the lineup, featuring Schwarber, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, and J.T. Realmuto, finished the day 0-for-14 with seven strikeouts and a pair of walks. 

It's a long season, and there's no panic after one game, but starting the season strong is something Thomson continuously stressed throughout the spring. To say Friday's showing was less than ideal would be an understatement. 

"Marsh hits that two-run homer and you're feeling pretty good with the bullpen that we have," Thomson said. "It just didn't play out that way. That'll change, I have complete confidence in our bullpen and our offense."

The Phillies faced a challenging start to last season, dropping five of their first six games and struggled through much of April and May. Their luck didn't take a positive turn until June, when they rallied to finish the month with an impressive 18-8 record.

"That's a good team over there," said Harper. "They put together good at-bats and they've seen our guys for a long time. We just got to be better."

Showing Leather
Alec Bohm showcased his defensive skills with a sensational diving stop to his left on a ground ball hit by Austin Riley. This pivotal play likely prevented Ronald Acuna Jr. from advancing home from second base had the ball made its way to left field. Following Bohm's impressive effort, Bryce Harper contributed to the defensive showcase with an exceptional grab. Harper dove to his right to snag a line drive off the bat of Matt Olson, a play that Statcast estimated would typically result in a batting average of .710 with an exit velocity of 102.6 mph. 

A New Weapon
Zack Wheeler said he felt good about his new splitter. He threw ten per Statcast, with seven counting as strikes. 

"It was a really good pitch for me today," Wheeler said. "It's just always about making adjustments with it while your out there. I got the result I wanted with it today though. They got two base hits off of hit, a pair of bleeders, so that's frustrating, but it was really soft contact. I was happy with that pitch in particular today."

With his effort, Wheeler became the first Phillies Opening Day starter since Roy Halladay in 2012 to toss at least six scoreless innings. Halladay threw eight. 

Short Leash?
Zack Wheeler threw 89 pitches over six frames, and if this was a contest in late April it's likely he would have at least started the seventh inning. However, he missed some time in Spring Training for the birth of his third child and Rob Thomson wanted to play it safe.

"No, nope, we got to take care of him," Rob Thomson said when asked about if he considered pushing Wheeler to near 100 pitches. 

Up Next
Saturday's game will see right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola take the mound for the Phillies, going head-to-head against Atlanta's talented left-hander Max Fried. The action is set to begin at 4:05 p.m. 

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