PHILADELPHIA — Zack Wheeler was one out away from his first shutout in seven years when Phillies manager Joe Girardi made a trip to the mound for a quick question.
Can you get this batter?
With two runners on base, Wheeler was emphatic — he could and he did.
Wheeler retired Daniel Vogelbach on a foul pop on his 118th pitch to finish the three-hit shutout, leading Philadelphia to a 2-0 win and four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.
“We were both very adamant we were going to finish that game,” catcher Andrew Knapp said.
Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin lead a rotation that have the Phillies in first place (17-15) and as the only team in the NL East with a winning record. The Phillies head out on a nine-game road trip against Atlanta, Washington and Toronto that could define just how serious they are about contending for their first playoff berth since 2011.
“This is a big point in our season,” Girardi said.
Wheeler struck out eight in throwing his second career shutout and complete game in 144 starts, and first since 2014 when he played for the New York Mets.
Alex Bohm homered for the Phillies and Rhys Hoskins added an RBI double in the eighth.
“We have great pitching. we’ve got a deep lineup. But I think one thing that stands out to me is how we fight,” Bohm said.
Wheeler (3-2) and Brandon Woodruff engaged in a brilliant pitchers’ duel that ended when Bohm connected on a 97 mph fastball in the seventh for his fourth homer of the season.
Woodruff (2-1) struck out 10 over the first five innings — 11 total over 6 2-3 innings — and allowed only Odubel Herrera’s single in the second until Bohm went deep.
Wheeler matched him pitch-for-pitch, giving up just Billy McKinney’s leadoff double in the third until Lorenzo Cain’s one-out single in the ninth. McKinney was promptly erased when Luke Maile lined into a double play. Wheeler faced the minimum through eight.
“He was just on. He was hitting his spots and able to get a lot of quick outs,” Woodruff said. “A guy like that, that’s what he does. He was on his game and he was tough today.”
In a year of vanishing offense, Woodruff and Wheeler added to MLB hitters’ woes. The overall batting average was .233 coming into Thursday and pitchers have already tossed three no-hitters – including Baltimore’s John Means against Seattle a day earlier.
Wheeler got some defensive help in the fifth when catcher Andrew Knapp made a sliding catch near the visiting dugout to retire Travis Shaw on a foul out. Brewers right fielder Tyrone Taylor came right back in the bottom of the inning and chased down Herrera’s tailing flyball.
Neither performance on another windy day in Philly was a total surprise: Woodruff had only one earned run in 18 career innings against the Phillies and Wheeler had 2.90 ERA in five career starts against the Brewers.
Woodruff was economical in his excellence and threw only 74 pitches over the first six innings. He threw 73 strikes out of 103 pitches total and walked two before he was pulled for Angel Perdomo.
“Games like that, they need to be good enough for us to win. And we ran into his counterpart doing the same,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Both pitchers were absolutely dealing against lineups without the other’s top slugger: Bryce Harper didn’t start for Philadelphia for the fourth straight game because of a sore left wrist and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich went on the injured list this week with a back injury.
The Phillies played seven straight one-run games (4-3) and gave the bullpen a needed day off headed into a long road trip.
“Any time you can save arms out there, save pitches, it’s a long season. That adds up,” Wheeler said. “It’s another off day for them, so that’s good.”