Corey Seidman

Who makes next start for Phillies: Spencer Howard or Vince Velasquez? Joe Girardi weighs in

Who makes next start for Phillies: Spencer Howard or Vince Velasquez? Joe Girardi weighs in

Phillies fans have been clamoring for Spencer Howard for a little while now. They've heard about the velocity, the swing-and-miss slider, the knee-buckling curveball, the diving changeup, the beyond-his-years command. The organization has been just as excited.

With a couple of doubleheaders this week, you could smell Howard's debut. It became apparent that the Phils would need a sixth starter and who better than Howard, the top pitching prospect in the organization who was already on the doorstep of the majors and who probably would have been here on opening day if not for service time considerations.

This was a big day for the Phillies. Two games against your division rival, the NL East favorite. Sweep the doubleheader and you win the series against the Braves. Split and you have a chance to win it Monday night.

Instead, the Phillies were outscored 13-2 in a pair of losses. They hit .146 on the day, went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and the bullpen allowed eight runs on 13 hits in 5⅓ innings.

Still, there was excitement in the air because of Howard's long-awaited debut, which came Sunday afternoon in Game 2. After a couple of scoreless innings, the Braves welcomed Howard to the majors. Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. took him deep, and Howard allowed four runs over 4⅔ innings. The Phillies lost the game 8-0, a few hours after falling to the Braves 5-2.

There are far greater sins than being beaten by two of baseball's best. Given the circumstances — Howard hadn't pitched against another actual team in months and his own throwing schedule was changed this week to accommodate the Sunday start — it wasn't that bad. (The Phillies' offense was much worse.)

"Spencer, for his first start, I thought he did pretty good," manager Joe Girardi said. "He was able to throw strikes. The first two guys get on (in the first inning) and he's able to not give up a run. He didn't fall apart, which sometimes it's tough to slow a young person's mind down when it's their first start or first year. I thought he handled it pretty well."

Howard did not feel sharp. He added that he'd rather get hit on a day like today than on a day when he does feel sharp because that, after all, could be symbolic of a larger issue than being rusty and making a few mistakes against a strong lineup like the Braves.

"I wouldn't say I felt sharp," the 24-year-old rookie said. "Just a little out of sync with mechanics. Left a lot of balls over the plate and mistakes get hit in the big leagues. Overall, it was a decent day, awesome to compete again."

It was obviously strange for Howard to debut with no fans or family members in the stands. Not how a little kid dreams about making his first start in The Show. Howard dreamt of pitching a shutout in his first start in front of mom and dad. 

But it's 2020, so c'est la vie.

"The cardboard cutouts actually made a difference, surprisingly," Howard said. "Coming back in the summer camp when it was just the blue bleachers and then seeing the cardboard with the fan noises, it was OK actually. I wish all my friends could be here but I know they're all watching and that's all that matters."

The question now becomes: Who makes the next start five days from now? Will it be Vince Velasquez, who allowed one run in four innings in Game 1 Sunday, or Howard?

"Right now, my plans are for Vinny to make that start," Girardi said. "I have not talked to anyone. We're going on a five-man rotation, Spencer came up and threw the second part of a doubleheader. I'll sit down and talk to our coaches and (GM Matt Klentak and assistant GM Ned Rice) and we'll make a decision.

"We didn't come into today and say we were going to make a change in the rotation. We didn't come out and say that. We said we're going to evaluate every day what's best for our team."

It is possible the Phillies, with such a bad bullpen, could make Howard a multi-inning reliever. They wouldn't use him as a closer but as a pitcher capable of picking up six, maybe even nine outs as a reliever when the situation calls for it. Long-term, Howard will be a starter. But given the struggles and lack of plus stuff in the Phillies' bullpen, Howard could make a big impact as a multi-inning reliever in a short season if the Phillies go that route.

It seems unlikely, if only because the Phillies still have five more doubleheaders and will need a sixth starter again. But it's on the table. Most everything is on the table until the Phillies find out a formula for a bullpen that has an 8.10 ERA with 44 hits allowed in 30 innings.

"It's something that we've talked about," Girardi said. "It's something we will continue to talk about. What we do and how we have the best makeup of a pitching staff."

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Phillies go hitless with runners in scoring position and lose both games of doubleheader to Braves

Phillies go hitless with runners in scoring position and lose both games of doubleheader to Braves

Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Braves spoiled the MLB debut of Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on what was also a dismal day for the Phils' bats.

Freeman and Acuña each homered to the opposite field off of Howard, going 5 for 6 with those two jacks and a triple as the Braves won both games of Sunday's doubleheader by scores of 5-2 and 8-0.

The Phillies had just seven hits in 14 innings. They went 7 for 48 in the doubleheader, a .146 batting average.

Their best scoring chance in Game 2 came in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with two outs for Bryce Harper, who flied out to shallow center.

The Phillies are 4-6. The Braves are 11-6.

More specifics here on Howard's outing.

No knocks when it counts

The Phillies went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position in the two games Sunday. They have hit .194 with RISP this season.

Braves' best players woke up

To win this series, the Phillies needed Freeman and Acuña to stay cold for just a few more days. They entered Sunday hitting a combined .207. Freeman went 6 for 8 in the doubleheader with a double, triple and homer. Acuña went 5 for 8 with three homers. Combined, that's 11 for 16 with four homers, a double, triple and eight RBI. Good grief.

At least Hoskins built a little confidence

Rhys Hoskins, who entered the second game Sunday hitting .111 (3 for 27), went 2 for 2 with a double and an HBP. He's hitting .172, though with a .429 on-base percentage. Every little thing counts right now for Hoskins, who threw his arms up in the air to thank the Baseball Gods after he finally picked up that first hit Sunday. 

Up next

Aaron Nola (0-1, 3.97) starts the series finale Monday night at 6:05 against Braves lefty Sean Newcomb (0-1, 6.57).

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Spencer Howard gives up homers to Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. in Phillies debut

Spencer Howard gives up homers to Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. in Phillies debut

Spencer Howard's first major-league start is in the books. The Braves didn't make it easy on him.

In 4⅔ innings, Howard allowed four runs on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He threw 81 pitches. The Phillies did not score with him in the game.

Howard threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 22 hitters he faced, and after a couple innings the Braves were going up to the plate ready to hack at the first pitch.

Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves' pair of superstars, did the most damage against Howard, going 5 for 6 with two homers and a triple.

Howard was close to getting through his first three innings unscathed but Dansby Swanson beat out a would-be double-play ball by inches. The third inning went on and Freeman took Howard opposite-field for a two-run shot on a 95 mph fastball. Two innings later, Acuña also took Howard oppo. Welcome to the bigs.

Howard allowed a fair amount of hard contact. Even in the scoreless first inning, Freeman lined out hard to right field and Travis d'Arnaud smoked a liner right at third baseman Jean Segura.

There were also some eye-popping pitches and moments from Howard, such as his second-inning strikeout of Adam Duvall. Howard spotted a fastball on the outside corner for a called strike one, threw a nasty hook for a swinging strike two, then pinpointed a fastball inside and at the knees for a called strike three.

His fastball averaged 93.5 mph and maxed out at 95.5. Surprisingly, Howard didn't get a single swing-and-miss on the 41 fastballs he threw. He did get seven swinging strikes with his slider and three with the changeup.

Bryce Harper, who had pined for Howard to join the Phillies' rotation, said this about his new teammate:

"I'm excited for him. This is where it starts. It's not minor-league ball anymore, it starts now. Excited to get him up here and get him acclimated to this team and how we go about it. He's a great competitor. He's got plus-plus stuff. Phillies fans should be very excited to see what Spence does. 

"He just needs to be Spence. That's the biggest thing when guys get up here, change this or change that, people want to see you do this or do that. But my biggest thing is when guys get up here, I want them to be able to enjoy themselves, take in the moment and really know they have the stuff to be here. I just want him to enjoy the moment."

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