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What we learned from the Phillies’ sweep-averting, come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Braves

Trea Turner knocked in Johan Rojas from second base to tie the score before Alec Bohm’s two-run single gave the Phillies just enough offense to win.

Phillies center fielder Johan Rojas scores the tying run in the seventh inning against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
Phillies center fielder Johan Rojas scores the tying run in the seventh inning against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.Read moreDavid Maialetti / Staff Photographer

There aren’t many secrets anymore between the National League East’s powerhouses. Not after all the regular-season get-togethers and the back-to-back postseason showdowns. Not with the core of each team changing so little from year to year to year.

Yet somehow there were the Phillies, staring at two Braves lefties whom most of them barely faced before.

Chris Sale and Aaron Bummer are part of this rivalry now because the Braves wanted to better handle the Phillies’ left-handed sluggers. In that vein, then, the Phillies did more than avert a sweep with a 5-4 Easter Sunday comeback before 42,515 paying customers at Citizens Bank Park.

» READ MORE: Phillies vs. Braves: Who’s chasing whom? The subplots that make up baseball’s best rivalry.

OK, so they scored two runs in 5⅓ innings against Sale, whose mere presence helped to compel manager Rob Thomson to keep lefty-hitting Bryson Stott, Brandon Marsh, and even Bryce Harper on the bench. But they rallied to tie the score and take the lead in a three-run seventh inning against Bummer en route to their first victory of the season.

“It’s a good thing just because [Bummer’s] a new arm we haven’t really seen before,” Kyle Schwarber said after taking Sale deep for his 32nd career leadoff homer and knocking a single against Bummer. “To go in there, get some hits off that guy, be able to put runs on him and come back and win the game, that’s big.”

After dropping the first two games of the season by a 21-7 margin, the Phillies were trailing 3-2 in the seventh with the tying run on first base when they called on Marsh as a pinch-hitter. The Braves countered with Bummer, acquired in November from the White Sox for five players, including starters Jared Shuster and Michael Soroka.

It was exactly the situation they envisioned for him.

“That’s why we got those guys,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said the other day in reference to Sale and Bummer. “Look, [the Phillies] have some dangerous left-handed hitters that you try to neutralize with the left-handed pitching.”

Bummer struck out Marsh and walked, almost tiptoed, off the mound when the Braves appeared to turn a double play on Johan Rojas’ grounder to shortstop. But Rojas beat the throw to first base, and after the Phillies challenged, the call on the field was overturned.

“It was the biggest part of the game, really,” Thomson said.

But the Braves still had Bummer to face Schwarber, one of those menacing left-handed bats. Schwarber lined a first-pitch sweeper to center field, moving Rojas into scoring position. Trea Turner grounded a game-tying single to right field before Alec Bohm blooped a two-run single off diving left fielder Adam Duvall’s glove for a 5-3 lead.

» READ MORE: Bryce Harper sat out the Phillies’ win against the Braves but is expected to be available Monday

Talk about a bummer for the Braves. (Sorry, it was unavoidable.)

“You see them start acquiring these lefties, tough-matchup lefties, and the writing’s kind of on the wall,” Bohm said. “That’s kind of how the game’s going. You get these lefty specialists, and all these bullpens all around the league are getting nastier and nastier. They made some additions, they got some good arms back there.”

Indeed, it isn’t only Bummer. Tyler Matzek is back in the Braves’ bullpen after missing last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. They have A.J. Minter and Dylan Lee, too, all of whom pitched in this series. Only Bummer gave up runs.

Bet on Bummer being there in Atlanta when the teams meet again July 5-7.

“They’ve done a good job at loading up their ‘pen, no doubt,” Thomson said. “We have to accept that challenge and stay after it.”

A few other observations from the Phillies’ season-opening series:

Schwarber on the run

Although Schwarber didn’t discuss it last season, it was evident that he was slowed on the bases and compromised in left field by a balky knee.

He’s moving better now after rest and a new conditioning program.

Not only did Schwarber steal a base Saturday — his first steal since Game 1 of the 2022 World Series — but he went first to third on Turner’s single in the seventh inning. Turner stole second and was able to score on Bohm’s bloop hit.

» READ MORE: Kyle Schwarber had a ‘weird’ 2023 season. Here’s what the Phillies slugger wants to change.

“I feel good,” Schwarber said. “I feel like I got a good routine with the training staff and the strength coaches and put myself in a good position in the offseason to feel pretty good coming into the season, bodywise, runningwise, things like that. It definitely feels a lot better. I’m happy about it.”

Surely it helps, too, that he is primarily a designated hitter.

“It’s such a long year and things can happen,” said Schwarber, whose trademark — loud homers, such as the 114-mph line drive against Sale in the first inning — isn’t changing. “But if you keep putting yourself in a good position, you’re ready to go.”

Rojas chips in

Given all the spring-training attention on Johan Rojas, it was notable that he went 0-for-8 in the three games. But the young center fielder made a positive contribution by using his speed to beat out the potential double play.

Rojas also got hit on the right calf by a pitch when he squared around to bunt against Sale in the fifth inning.

“He’s battling,” Thomson said. “A little bit tougher day today, but he’s battling. For the most part, he’s giving us good at-bats. And he’s dynamic. He runs the bases, just like that play kept that inning alive just because of his speed. He’s doing fine.”

A rebound for Alvarado

Thomson was pleased with the bullpen, with five relievers combining to allow one run in four innings after starter Ranger Suárez gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to Ozzie Albies and kept the Phillies close.

In particular, José Alvarado rebounded from a wretched opening-day appearance. He threw his cutter effectively and retired Marcell Ozuna, Duvall, and Michael Harris II on 13 pitches (nine strikes) to record his first save.

“He’s as good as they get coming out of the bullpen when that cutter has that much depth,” Thomson said.