Phillies

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Vince Velasquez-Max Scherzer in the home opener

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Vince Velasquez-Max Scherzer in the home opener

Phillies vs. Nationals
3:05 p.m. on NBC10; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app

It should be chilly and windy in South Philly on Friday afternoon for the Phillies' home opener, but it looks like the rain will stay away. 

Let's dive into the first divisional series of the season:

1. A more economical Velasquez?
Vince Velasquez makes his season debut against a Nationals team he faced just once last season and beat, allowing three runs in six innings.

Velasquez had a decent first year with the Phillies in 2016, going 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 24 starts, striking out 152 and walking 45 in 131 innings. He was extremely effective in April, June and July but struggled badly in May and August.

The trend for Velasquez as the season wore on was that he was beaten up by the good teams and he held the bad teams in check.

His first rough patch came at the end of May, when he allowed five home runs and 10 runs in 8 2/3 innings in road games against the Tigers and Cubs. He hit the DL shortly thereafter.

In August, he stumbled in three consecutive starts against the Dodgers and Cardinals, allowing 19 runs in 16 1/3 innings as his ERA soared from 3.33 to 4.31.

With Velasquez last season, the problem was often a high pitch count and an early exit. He pitched more than six innings only three times, and he lasted less than six innings 11 times.

Velasquez racks up strikeouts and knows that if he can get to two strikes he has the stuff to put a hitter away. But the deeper you go into counts, the more pitches you throw and the quicker the hook becomes.

Velasquez talked last spring about wanting to throw more sinkers to get groundballs early in counts. He ended up using that pitch just 9.6 percent of the time.

He threw his four-seam fastball 56 percent of the time last season. Velasquez has a good fastball-changeup combination, and at times he flashes an impressive curveball, but he struggled to locate that pitch last season. It's one of the keys for him in 2017 because if he can give hitters three different speeds and pitches to worry about, it will make him tough to pick up. Velasquez's fastball averages 95 mph, his changeup 88 and his curveball 80.

Current Nationals are 4 for 21 off Velasquez with just one extra-base hit, a Daniel Murphy double.

2. Good luck to the offense
It might not matter how well Velasquez pitches. His counterpart Friday is Nationals ace and reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

In case you forgot just how dominant Scherzer has been against the Phillies since joining the Nationals two years ago, here are his game logs against them in chronological order:

• 6 innings, 1 run, 8 strikeouts, Nats win
• 8 innings, 1 run, 9 strikeouts, Nats win
• 8 innings, 1 run, 6 strikeouts, Nats win
• 8 innings, 2 runs, 7 strikeouts, Nats win
• 7 innings, 1 run, 7 strikeouts, Nats win
• 6 innings, 3 runs, 7 strikeouts, Phillies win(!)
• 8 innings, 2 runs, 11 strikeouts, Nats win
• 8 innings, 2 runs, 11 strikeouts, Nats win
• 6 2/3 innings, 0 runs, 8 strikeouts, Nats win

The Nats pushed back Scherzer's season debut a few days because of an offseason stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger. He probably would have been starting on opening day otherwise -- I mean, the guy went 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA last season, had the lowest WHIP (0.97) in baseball and the most strikeouts (284).

Like Cliff Lee once upon a time, Scherzer is around the plate so much that he can be homer-prone. He doesn't like walking hitters and sometimes grooves a first-pitch fastball or will throw something that catches too much plate to avoid falling behind in the count.

Scherzer gave up a National League-leading 31 home runs last season and 27 the year before. Only two active Phillies -- Andres Blanco and Cameron Rupp -- have taken him deep.

Odubel Herrera has had the most success vs. Scherzer of any Phillie, going 7 for 25 with a double, triple, and somehow, five walks.

Blanco is 5 for 11 against him.

3. Who's on first?
Tommy Joseph went 0 for 8 with five strikeouts in the first two games of the season before sitting for Brock Stassi Thursday. In a pinch-hit appearance, Joseph flied out to the opposite field.

Last season, Joseph was 0 for 7 with three K's against Scherzer.

Given the way Daniel Nava started his season Thursday, homering in each of his first two at-bats (see story), it would make sense for Pete Mackanin to start him at first base Friday. It would give the Phillies another left-handed hitter against Scherzer while also keeping Howie Kendrick (5 for 14 off Scherzer) and Michael Saunders (two doubles in nine at-bats) in the lineup.

But it goes both ways. Joseph is a potential piece of the Phillies' future, unlike Nava, Kendrick and Saunders. Sitting him two games in a row this early in the season could damage his confidence.

But remember, Joseph is not an established everyday player yet. He had a solid rookie season with 21 homers but also had a low on-base percentage at .308. And this early in the season, the Phillies should be playing to win, shouldn't they?

4. Washington's year?
The Nationals again have one of the most talented and balanced teams in baseball. They lost catcher Wilson Ramos but gained Matt Wieters, which is essentially a wash. They lost Ben Revere but picked up Adam Eaton, which is a big gain. They also added Adam Lind as a bench bat who can play first base if/when Ryan Zimmerman gets hurt.

With Trea Turner and Eaton, the Nats have tremendous speed and on-base skills atop the lineup for Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. It's going to be difficult to pitch to the middle of that order if one of the first two guys gets on base.

The Nationals' starting rotation is good enough for a division title with Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark. Their bullpen doesn't have a bunch of big names, but closer Blake Treinen and setup man Shawn Kelley have been quietly effective for the better part of two seasons.

The Phillies went 5-14 against the Nationals last season and could do something similar in 2017.

5. This and that
• Herrera had the best opening series of any Phillie, reaching base seven times in 13 plate appearances with two doubles. Since Scherzer moved to the National League, he's put Herrera on base more than any other hitter (12 times). Scherzer walked Herrera four times last season and didn't walk anyone else more than twice.

• Do the Braves owe Ryan Howard's agent a favor or something? What an odd fit.

• If it seemed like Clay Buchholz took forever between pitches Wednesday, that wasn't your imagination. Over the last three seasons, Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson have been two of the four slowest-paced starting pitchers in baseball. Only David Price and Yu Darvish take more time in between pitches.

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

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AP Images

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."

New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

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USA Today Images

New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Retired star pitcher Roy Halladay sped his small sports plane low over the Gulf of Mexico minutes before his fatal crash two weeks ago, climbing sharply in the final seconds before diving into the water, federal investigators said in a preliminary report released Monday.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Noreen Price placed no blame for the Nov. 7 accident near Tampa, simply laying out the facts as gleaned from the plane's data recorder and eyewitnesses. A final report with conclusions could take one to two years.

Price says Halladay, 40, had taken off from a lake near his Tampa-area home about 17 minutes before the crash, taking his ICON A5 to 1,900 feet (580 meters) before dropping to 600 feet (180 meters) as he neared the coastline. He then dropped to 36 feet (11 meters) when he reached the water. While flying at about 105 mph (170 kph), Halladay skimmed the water at 11 feet (3.3 meters), flying in a circle before climbing to 100 feet (30 meters), the plane's data showed.

A witness told investigators the plane climbed to between 300 and 500 feet (95 to 150 meters) when it turned and went into a 45-degree dive. It slammed into the water and flipped.

Halladay's body was found with the plane, which was severely damaged. The plane itself was equipped with a parachute, but it was not deployed.

The former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies star had received the plane from ICON on Oct. 10, and was one of the first to receive the model. In one of many enthusiastic tweets about the plane, Halladay said it felt "like flying a fighter jet." He had about 700 hours of flight time after getting his license in 2013, the report says. He had 51 hours in ICON A5s, including 14 in the plane that crashed.

Rolled out in 2014, the A5 is an amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV, a piece of weekend recreational gear with folding wings that can easily be towed on a trailer to a lake where it can take off from the water.

The man who led the plane's design, 55-year-old John Murray Karkow, died while flying an A5 over California's Lake Berryessa on May 8, a crash the NTSB attributed to pilot error.

Another A5 crashed in April, making a hard landing in the water off Key Largo, Florida, injuring the pilot and his passenger. The pilot told investigators the plane descended faster than he expected.

Halladay, an eight-time All-Star, pitched a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter in 2010. He played for the Blue Jays from 1998 to 2009 and for the Phillies from 2009-13, going 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA.