Phillies

Phillies Mailbag: Velasquez's future, Crawford's slow start, 1B situation

Phillies Mailbag: Velasquez's future, Crawford's slow start, 1B situation

The box is full and your friendly neighborhood mailman is back to answer all those burning Phillies curiosities of yours. 

Hit me:

Vince Velasquez is a unique pitcher. He's in the top-five in baseball the last two seasons in strikeouts per nine innings among starting pitchers, but he's also toward the bottom in pitches per inning and innings per start.

With Velasquez, his K/9 doesn't really matter -- it's more like a K/5, because he rarely goes too much deeper into the game.

Velasquez is 26 starts into his Phillies career and has lasted past the sixth inning only three times. When he has a poor start, the Phils have little chance of a win because they're playing from behind early and forced to go to the bullpen. When he has a good outing, the Phillies still often require several scoreless innings from the 'pen to lock it down.

Velasquez is realistic about his struggles. He takes little solace in the high strikeout totals because they're less important than quick exits. He assessed his two starts this season as "terrible" and said he's not doing his team any favors.

If the Phillies wanted to convert him to the bullpen there is no doubt in my mind he'd be a very successful setup man or closer. He has the stuff and the mentality to be a closer. However, putting men on base is even more costly for a reliever and those lapses in control Velasquez has would be even more impactful in relief.

Still, it is the Phillies' goal to give him at least one more full season to gauge how much success he can have in a rotation. The talent and upside are there and they're not going anywhere. 

"There's no other alternative," manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday night when asked if he's content to wait it out with Velasquez. "Hopefully during the course of this season, he's going to show improvement. I have a lot of confidence in him making progress during the course of the year."

Matt Klentak didn't trade Ken Giles to Houston for a package led by Velasquez simply to replace Giles in the ninth inning with Velasquez a year later. But this organization will also be realistic about Velasquez' chances to contribute. 

The true deciding factor will be the progress made by the Phillies' young pitching prospects. The five guys at Triple-A -- Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively and Mark Appel -- will also get chances in the big leagues sooner rather than later. If they fail, there's no urgency or reason to move Velasquez. If several of them show their stuff can play at the big-league level, though, it will be an interesting conversation for the organization this winter.

But don't expect any change to be made with Velasquez's role in 2017.

J.P. Crawford is off to a rough start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, going 3 for 28 (.107) with one walk and 10 strikeouts in his first seven games.

It's a continuation of Crawford's struggles at the minors' highest level last season. All told, Crawford has been a .234/.315/.308 hitter in 414 plate appearances at Triple-A.

At some point, the performance for Crawford has to match the hype in order for the Phillies to feel confident he can produce every day in the majors. It sounds crazy because Crawford is their top prospect, but at this point, he is not ready to step in and contribute more than Freddy Galvis. Galvis is an elite defensive shortstop and continues to hit for power. Obviously, Galvis' on-base percentage last season was ugly, but if he feels the pressure placed on him by Crawford and improves in that regard, who knows when Crawford gets the job.

The bottom line is Crawford is going to have to hit his way up to the bigs. He won't be handed the job unless Galvis goes down with a long-term injury. Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said before the season that Crawford developed some bad habits at Double-A Reading last season that he carried with him to Triple A. If last season was about Crawford improving his defense, this season is about him showing his offensive ability consists of more than just plate discipline.

Joseph played well enough last season to earn the everyday job heading into this season, but it's not as if it's his job for good. He's being pushed by 1B Rhys Hoskins, who is off to a strong start at Triple-A after hitting 38 home runs with a high on-base percentage last season at Double A. Through eight games with the IronPigs, Hoskins has gone 9 for 26 (.346) with three doubles, a homer and four walks.

Before the season, Jordan referred to Hoskins as the "smartest hitter" at Lehigh Valley, which is high praise considering Crawford, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens are also there.

If Hoskins keeps hitting and Joseph is at .220 with a .290 on-base percentage in June or July, you could see the Phils add Hoskins to the 40-man roster, designate someone for assignment and call him up. In that scenario, why not see what he has? Hoskins is going to be 25 years old before the end of next spring training, so it's not as if he needs several more years of development.

This is an interesting question. As of Thursday night, the Phillies had allowed nine home runs already this season with two strikes and no other team had allowed more than six. The Phillies' team ERA with two strikes is 4.81; the MLB average is around 2.80.

Missing so badly with two strikes usually comes down to a lack of concentration. It can be execution, too, but oftentimes if the count is 0-2 or 1-2, the pitcher shouldn't be anywhere near the plate. That's when you bury a breaking ball or pump an enticing fastball high and just out of the strike zone.

Take a look at some of these two-strike pitches, especially to Yoenis Cespedes. Look where Cameron Rupp sets up and where the pitch ends up. Shoutout to MLB.com's Ben Harris for the screen grabs:

He's right. You can't pin that on Rupp. The pitchers simply need to hit their spots.

Red Sox name Alex Cora manager; Mets offer job to Mickey Callaway

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Red Sox name Alex Cora manager; Mets offer job to Mickey Callaway

BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox have hired Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora to be their new manager.

The team made the announcement on Sunday, a day after Cora's Astros reached the World Series.

Cora replaces John Farrell, who was fired this month despite winning back-to-back AL East titles. Farrell's teams won the 2013 World Series, finished last twice and then in each of the past two years won the division but got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

A native of Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Hispanic manager in Red Sox history.

He played 14 years in the major leagues before retiring in 2011, including parts of four seasons with the Red Sox. He was a member of Boston's 2007 World Series team.

Cora has never managed before.

Reports: Mets offer manager job to Indians coach Callaway
NEW YORK — It appears the New York Mets have settled on their choice for a manager.

Several media outlets are reporting the team has offered the job to Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. The New York Post was the first to report the Mets were in talks with Callaway, saying a deal is being finalized.

When contacted Sunday, multiple Mets officials declined to comment.

With his contract set to expire, Terry Collins stepped down at the end of the season after seven years as Mets manager and accepted a position as a special assistant to general manager Sandy Alderson.

The 42-year-old Callaway has been Cleveland's pitching coach for the past five seasons under highly successful manager Terry Francona. Led by ace right-hander Corey Kluber, the Indians led the major leagues with a 3.30 ERA this season, one year after reaching the World Series.

Callaway has never managed at any professional level.

Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

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Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP, and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve, the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."