Kimbrel a rock, Schwarber and Nola show important signs to begin ‘second push’

Kimbrel a rock, Schwarber and Nola show important signs to begin ‘second push’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It felt until the eighth inning Tuesday night like the Phillies had the game in hand.

Though their lead over the visiting Milwaukee Brewers was cut to two runs in the middle innings, Aaron Nola had gone 1-2-3 in six of seven frames, pounding the zone with quality strikes and one of his better breaking balls of the year.

Kyle Schwarber had opened the bottom of the first with his sixth leadoff homer of the year, and the Phillies racked on two more early runs.

Nola was chased with one out in the eighth and the Phillies up two with runners on the corners. Gregory Soto came in and put out the fire — something he’s done all season — and Craig Kimbrel closed out a 4-3 win.

The Phillies expect to win these kinds of games. They’ve been doing it all year, thanks largely to a bullpen that has baseball’s lowest ERA since mid-April. Kimbrel has been a rock as the closer, converting 16 of 16 saves, many under high-stress conditions like Tuesday. Six of his last eight saves have been in one-run games. Kimbrel worked around a one-out Bryson Stott error and an errant throw of his own on a pick-off attempt that put a runner at second with one out.

“He’s been through it all,” manager Rob Thomson said. “Obviously, he’s had a great career, but he’s done an unbelievable job for us this year. Some people think the ninth inning is no different than the sixth inning, well, they don’t understand, because it is. And he can handle it.”

The All-Star and future Hall of Famer slammed the door to cap off the Phillies’ fourth straight win. This is already their seventh winning streak of at least four games. The Phillies are 27-10 since June 3, second-best in the majors behind only the Braves. They have allowed 20 fewer runs than any team in baseball over that span.

“I’m not sure where we’d be (without Kimbrel), Thomson said. “He’s just been incredible. And he’s a stabilizer down there. He talks to those guys all the time. He’s a calming voice down there for them. He’s a really good teammate.”

Soto allowed one of two inherited runners from Nola to score but has one of the highest success rates in the majors, having stranded 17 of 21 on the season.

And for Nola, it was a bounce-back performance after he served up three taters in the Phillies’ final game before the All-Star break in Miami.

Nola was pitching on eight days’ rest. He led the majors in innings in the first half and over the last six seasons.

“Probably, yeah,” Thomson said when asked if he thought Nola benefitted from the extra rest. “He’s been logging some innings. I thought his command was really good tonight.

“He’s a huge piece.”

Nola improved to 9-6 with a 4.27 ERA. He has a lower WHIP (1.08) than Gerrit Cole, Spencer Strider and all but nine pitchers in the majors.

His first half was marred by too many longballs. He allowed 21 in 19 starts before the All-Star break, two more than he allowed in 32 regular-season starts a year ago.

Nola accomplished a bunch of personal goals on Tuesday night. Focus on strike one. Retire the leadoff hitter. Slow up the delivery. Command both sides.

“It was good for me,” he said of the break. “I felt like I needed it. I felt like our whole staff needed it. But we’re ready to get back and get the second half started off right, and we have been.”

It was also a much-needed rest period for Schwarber, who has appeared in all 94 games this season with 72 starts in left field. He’s homered four games in a row for the first time in his career. He’s up to 26 on the season, third in the NL behind Matt Olson and Mookie Betts.

Schwarber also made a fantastic leaping catch against the wall in left field to rob extra bases or a home run for Nola in the fifth inning, joking afterward that he guesses “people are surprised I can play left field.”

Schwarber made use of the reset.

“Whenever you can get a little breather,” he said. “That first part of the schedule, too, I felt like we traveled a lot, going a lot of different places, out west. Not saying that’s an excuse at all.

“Felt like I was going, going, going. And to get that four-day break was nice. Whenever you get rest time, you want to take full advantage and spend time with your family. Nice little reset. You get back to the clubhouse and everyone’s ready to rock and roll and have a strong second half, strong second push.”

The Phillies ended the night 52-42 and in possession of the final wild-card spot, a half-game up on the Marlins and a half-game behind the Diamondbacks.

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