Phillies leave Atlanta with 7 All-Stars, Schwarber and Harper are back soon and a debut to think about

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

Then they all went inside for a clubhouse meeting at 12:25 p.m. Manager Rob Thomson revealed that this team has more All-Stars than any other 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 then they struggled through a 6-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves, which was soon over.

Michael Mercado, a rookie making his second start, couldn’t throw strikes or keep the ball in the yard. It happens. But the Phillies left here eight games for Atlanta feeling like they had survived the time without Harper and Schwarber.

They are 5-4 without them. Schwarber is scheduled to line up Tuesday against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. Harper is leaning toward it.

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

The Phillies could use them. They see the limits of a stripped-down lineup. They didn’t have an extra-base hit in Saturday’s loss. They were held scoreless for the third time this season on Sunday. A compromised roster was supposed to keep them from being wiped out at Truist Park, and the Phillies did it. They’ll look different when they return here in late August.

This is a team built on its stars, but somehow the All-Star announcements showed just how complete the Phillies’ roster is. 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 a single club is eight — set by the 2023 Braves. The Phillies fell just short.

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

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

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

The two relievers have become good friends and have improved their games through a religious daily game of catch. Thomson was the first to mention Strahm’s name during Sunday morning’s meeting.

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

“I didn’t expect much,” Strahm said. “I was hoping Jeff would get the approval. … He’s done an incredible job with the way he’s turned his career around. He really deserves it.”

Ranger Suárez has a 10-3 record 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 growing workload, but they will accommodate Suárez’s wishes.

“If I go, 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 plans to play in the All-Star Game. “Absolutely,” Harper said. It will 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 games before the break. A strong push would help.

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

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

“We need to discuss a number of things,” Thomson said.

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

The 26-year-old righty became the first Phillies pitcher to strike out seven in his major 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. In the past, of course, I’ve never been a strikeout pitcher. Today, I had a couple more strikeouts. I’m going to attribute that to some adrenaline. Hopefully, we can keep that going.”

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

Taijuan Walker (blister) is rehabbing with the team. He’ll throw a bullpen session Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park and could progress to a controlled session against batters over the weekend. He could need a minor-league start at some point, but the Phillies may need to accelerate if they want Walker in the rotation quickly after the All-Star break.

That All-Star Game will have a distinctly 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’s a testament to how good things are now.

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

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

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