Phillies

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Vince Velasquez could sure use a confidence boost

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Vince Velasquez could sure use a confidence boost

Phillies at Mets
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Hey, the Phillies beat the Mets! 

One win won't change the momentum in this divisional series owned by the Mets since 2014, but it had to feel good for Pete Mackanin and the boys to execute down the stretch against a team that's usually comfortably ahead in the later innings.

Tuesday's game was U-G-L-Y in all phases. Bad defense, dropped throws, boneheaded baserunning, pitchers constantly falling behind hitters. The Mets looked lifeless, for whatever reason. Maybe they left their mojo in Miami.

Here's a look at the middle game of the series:

1. Third time's the charm?
Vince Velasquez's first two starts have not gone well.

He's lasted just nine total innings and given up nine runs, needing 194 pitches to record 27 outs. A rate of 21.6 pitches per inning won't work for anyone and Velasquez knows it.

He was his own harshest critic last Wednesday night in the Phillies' clubhouse after he allowed five runs and walked four Mets in five innings. He has 17 strikeouts in those nine innings, but that's secondary to the quick exits and Velasquez's inability so far to keep the Phillies in games.

With Velasquez, it just might always be this way. One event doesn't seem to have any bearing on the next for him. He can mow through three batters one inning and then completely lose his command and poise the next.

One good start, two good starts, even five good starts won't make the Phillies feel completely comfortable with Velasquez. They're always going to go into a start not knowing whether the bullpen will be needed for two innings or five. He's not the only guy in the majors like that, but he's certainly one of the more volatile starting pitchers in either league.

Velasquez has another chance to conquer the Mets, a swing-and-miss oriented team that he could completely dominate if his command is there. It's also a team that could have him on the ropes early with a three-run homer if he's not hitting spots.

Michael Conforto has done the most damage off Velasquez of any Met. He's 4 for 7 with two homers and a walk. Look for him to lead off.

Yoenis Cespedes is 2 for 6 with a double, a homer and five RBIs against Velasquez. All other active Mets are a combined 9 for 51 (.176) with two extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts.

2. Bullpen notes
The Phillies used five relievers last night but none of them should be unavailable for tonight's game. 

Joely Rodriguez, Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Joaquin Benoit combined to allow just one hit over five scoreless innings with five strikeouts and none of them threw more than 17 pitches.

The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.01 ERA through 13 games, which ranks 22nd among 30 teams. But keep in mind that includes disastrous outings from Adam Morgan, who was sent to Triple-A, and Jeanmar Gomez, who was demoted from the closer's role.

The key pieces in the Phils' bullpen -- Neris, Benoit, Ramos, Pat Neshek -- have been mostly effective. 

Neris has thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out nine and allowing three baserunners. He's picked up right where he left off in 2016.

Neshek has made six scoreless appearances and last week made Cespedes look silly. (Neshek went on paternity leave Wednesday and the Phillies will call up right-hander Ben Lively to have an extra arm, according to CSN's Jim Salisbury.)

Ramos is best known so far for the controversial pitch behind Asdrubal Cabrera's head last week, but he has a 2.84 ERA so far with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

And while Benoit did allow the game-winning three-run home run to Bryce Harper over the weekend in D.C., his other six appearances have been scoreless. I've long believed that "percentage of scoreless appearances" is a better stat for a reliever than ERA. One bad outing can skew a reliever's numbers for months, but if he gives up runs only once every seven appearances, he's doing his job.

3. Scouting Gsellman
The Phillies draw the weakest link in the Mets' rotation, 23-year-old right-hander Robert Gsellman (0-1, 9.28 ERA).

Gsellman wasn't a highly-touted prospect like Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom or Zack Wheeler, but he worked his way up to the majors in 2016 after posting strong seasons in the minor leagues the previous two. 

In eight appearances last season (seven starts), Gsellman went 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, striking out 42 batters in 44 2/3 innings and allowing just one home run.

He faced the Phillies three times as a rookie and won twice, beating them in each of his final two starts. In those games Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, Gsellman allowed one run in 13 innings and struck out 15 against a dead-in-the-water Phillies team.

Gsellman's main pitch is his sinker, which he's thrown 46 percent of the time this season but hasn't been able to command. Opponents are 8 for 22 this season against that pitch with a double and a homer.

He also has a four-seam fastball that averages 94 mph, a slider, curveball and changeup.

4. Any love for Altherr?
Aaron Altherr had his first career pinch-hit last night, an RBI single in the 10th inning to put the Phillies up two runs. 

With Howie Kendrick going on the 10-day DL Tuesday, Altherr should have some starting opportunities over the next week. Daniel Nava got the nod in left field Tuesday but look for Altherr to get the start tonight.

Through 13 games Altherr has just 13 at-bats (4 for 13 with a double and a homer). He had a powerful spring and is looking to put a lost 2016 behind him.

Altherr has a future in this organization, either as a starter or fourth outfielder. His defensive ability certainly helps his cause and right now he's probably the Phils' best defensive outfielder. The Phillies have seen too many weak throws from the outfield already this season from Kendrick and Odubel Herrera.

5. This and that
• Tuesday's game was only the second time in the last 11 meetings that the Mets did not homer off the Phillies.

• Phillies starting pitchers have just seven quality starts in their last 23 games against the Mets.

• The Mets' bullpen will get better when closer Jeurys Familia returns Thursday from a 15-game suspension, but New York is going to need to add relief help by the trade deadline to have a real chance of going deep into October. Right now, this bullpen is extremely unimpressive. It's just straight fastball after straight fastball from guys like Addison Reed and Rafael Montero, and Hansel Robles is capable of imploding on any given night. 

The Mets have strong starting pitching but with a leaky bullpen and such a boom-bust offense, it just doesn't feel like a team destined to go far in 2017 ... at least as presently constructed.

MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

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MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

ATLANTA -- Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred hit the Atlanta Braves with heavy sanctions, including the loss of 13 players, on Tuesday for rules violations committed by the team in the international player market.

Manfred also placed former Braves general manager John Coppolella on the permanently ineligible list. Former Braves Special Assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team's international scouting chief, is suspended from performing services for any team for one year.

Manfred said an investigation conducted by Major League Baseball determined the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017 by moving bonus pool money from one player to boost another player's contract.

Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016 (see full story).

Yankees: Judge has left shoulder surgery
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees say slugger Aaron Judge had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to be ready for spring training.

The operation was performed Monday by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. The Yankees say the procedure involved a loose-body removal and cartilage cleanup.

The 25-year-old Judge hit .284 with 52 homers and 114 RBIs in 155 games this season, helping New York make it to the AL Championship Series, where they lost to the eventual World Series champion Astros. He was a unanimous selection for AL Rookie of the Year and finished second to Houston infielder Jose Altuve in the AL MVP race.

MLB: Morgan urges voters to keep steroid users out of HOF
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep "known steroid users" out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball's steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall's board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

"Steroid users don't belong here," Morgan wrote. "What they did shouldn't be accepted. Times shouldn't change for the worse."

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions (see full story).

Cubs: Venable leaves front office to be base coach
CHICAGO -- Will Venable is leaving the Chicago Cubs front office to be their first base coach.

The former major league outfielder was hired last summer as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

The 35-year-old Venable replaces Brandon Hyde, who has been promoted to bench coach for manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs also announced Tuesday that they had hired Jim Benedict as a special assistant to baseball operations. Benedict spent the previous two seasons as the vice president for pitching development for the Miami Marlins.

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

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Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four promising pitching prospects to their 40-man roster on Monday. In a corresponding move, they subtracted a notable name.

Right-handers Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Taveras and lefty Ranger Suarez were all added to the roster, protecting them from being selected by another club in next month's Rule 5 draft.

The Phillies also added an infielder, Engelb Vielma, to the roster. He was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants.

To make room for these additions, the team needed to clear three spots on its roster, which had been at 38. Left-handed pitcher Elniery Garcia cleared waivers and was sent outright to the minor leagues while right-handers Alberto Tirado and Mark Appel were designated for assignment. The Phillies will try to trade Tirado and Appel before placing them on waivers. If they clear waivers, they could stay in the system.

The Phillies cut Appel loose after he'd struggled with injury and ineffectiveness during two seasons in the organization. The 26-year-old right-hander from Stanford University had twice been a first-round draft pick, by Pittsburgh in 2012 and by Houston — No. 1 overall — in 2013. The Phillies acquired him from the Astros as part of the package for Ken Giles in December 2015, but he never lived up to his huge potential.

"A lot of the tools that Mark showed as an amateur that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick are still there," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "He has simply struggled with performance. It's certainly not for lack of effort on his part. We think the world of the kid and wish him well. It was a tough decision."

Tirado, 22, was acquired from Toronto in July 2015 as part of the return for Ben Revere. He arrived with a fastball that could reach triple digits on the radar gun and that promise earned him a spot on the 40-man a year ago. Tirado suffered a shoulder injury early last season and struggled in the minors.

All four of the pitchers that the Phillies protected are products of the team's international scouting department. Taveras, 24, was a standout at three levels in the minors last season and could be in the picture in Philadelphia in 2018. He led the system in strikeouts in 2016 and 2017.

"He knows how to get guys out and often times that comes via the strikeout," Klentak said. "No matter where he pitches, he rises to the occasion and puts up a strong performance."

Kilome, 22, and Dominguez, 22, are both power arms who project to see significant time at Double A in 2018. Suarez, 22, should also get to Double A at some point in 2018. He had a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts at two levels of Single A ball in 2017.

"He may have been the breakout pitcher of the year for the Phillies," Klentak said. "We'd always heard a lot about him and this year he took his performance to another level.

"We're really excited for all four of these guys. All have worked extremely hard and they are all deserving of being added to our roster. Our international scouting operation, Sal Agostinelli and his group, continues to crank out players. They've done a great job. These four pitchers have earned this through their work ethic and performance. By no means is this the ultimate goal for them, but it's one step closer. We believe really strongly in the futures of these four pitchers."

Vielma, 23, is a top defensive shortstop who can also play second and third base. He was waived by Minnesota in September and claimed by the Giants, who let him go in a roster crunch.

"He's an intriguing claim," Klentak said. "He adds depth to our infield."

The Phillies’ roster is at 40. The team will have to clear space if it wants to add a player in next month's Rule 5 draft. Last November, the Phils added 11 players to the 40-man roster and still lost lefty reliever Hoby Milner to Cleveland. Milner failed to make the Indians' opening-day roster, returned to the organization in March and ended up making 37 appearances for the big club after coming up in late June. He was one of 12 rookies to make their big-league debut with the Phillies in 2017.

Notable players who were not protected include outfielders Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin and pitcher Brandon Leibrandt.

"One of the byproducts of a strong system is every year there are some tough omissions," Klentak said. "There are always tough calls. But we look at that as a good problem to have."