Cole Irvin celebrates Mother's Day with first major-league win and a ride in a laundry cart

Cole Irvin celebrates Mother's Day with first major-league win and a ride in a laundry cart

KANSAS CITY — Over the last 15 games, Phillies starting pitchers have a glistening 2.36 ERA.

The latest gem was turned in by a guy who has never thrown hard enough to excite the folks who put together those Top 10 prospect lists, a guy who simply gets out and wins ballgames.

There’s nothing sexy about that other than … it’s what pitching is all about.

Cole Irvin won another one Sunday afternoon. Thirteen years to the day after another lefty with the same first name beat the Cincinnati Reds in his big-league debut, Irvin beat the Kansas City Royals, 6-1, in his first big-league start (see observations). Cole Hamels pitched five shutout innings in his debut. Irvin delivered seven innings of one-run ball as the Phils finished a 4-2 road trip and headed home seven games over .500, in first place in the NL East, and ready for a demanding 20-game stretch that will feature tests against some of the best clubs in the league.

“Man, that was fun,” Irvin said of his performance, witnessed in person by a couple of dozen friends and family members who had come in from the West Coast.

Irvin, 25, was the Phillies’ fifth-round pick out of the University of Oregon in the 2016 draft. Without a high-octane fastball, he relies on mixing a deep repertoire of pitches and throwing strikes. That approach helped him go 16-4 with a 2.50 ERA at Triple A since the start of the 2018 season and it helped him beat the Royals on Sunday. He scattered five hits, walked one and struck out five. He took control of at-bats by throwing a first-pitch strike to 22 of 27 batters.

“He did a great job mixing speeds,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “He kept them off balance the whole time. He attacked hitters, got ahead of guys. He had a good mix of pitches. Can't ask for much more out of the guy than that.

“Five minutes before the game, he was just chatting it up, smiling. He didn't seem too nervous at all, which is pretty comforting from my end knowing that it's just another game for him. That's how he treated it.”

Irvin said he was more nervous when he joined the team after scheduled starter Vince Velasquez (sore elbow) went on the injured list Saturday. Irvin got word of his promotion in the wee hours of the morning and flew to Kansas City on two hours sleep. He was well rested for Sunday’s start.

“I slept like a rock last night because I didn’t have any sleep the night before,” he joked.

Irvin was supported by six runs in the fifth inning. The Phils lost the first game of the series, 5-1, then won the next two by a combined score of 13-1. Starting pitching was spectacular in those two games. Zach Eflin preceded Irvin’s gem with a shutout Saturday night.

“Cole did a great job just attacking the strike zone and inducing weak contact,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He had a crisp pace and it was just enormous for him to give our bullpen just one more day to get ready for that Milwaukee series.”

The Phils host the high-flying Brewers for four games beginning Monday night. Irvin lines up to pitch again Friday night at home in the series opener against Colorado.

Also during the 20-game stretch, the Phils will see the Cubs, Dodgers, Rockies, Cardinals and Brewers again. It's a good chance to see how the Phils stack up against some other top teams in the league, right?

"I don’t know that we’re looking to see how we stack up against teams," Kapler said. "We're just looking to beat them."

After Irvin won his debut on Sunday, his teammates celebrated by placing him in a laundry cart, wheeling him into the shower and dousing him with cold beer. Irvin actually had to shower and put his uniform back on to go out to the field to pose for a picture with family and friends. His mom, Sandy, was in town from Oregon. It was an unforgettable Mother’s Day for her and her son.

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Phillies beat Braves behind strong games from Jake Arrieta, Jay Bruce, J.T. Realmuto

Phillies beat Braves behind strong games from Jake Arrieta, Jay Bruce, J.T. Realmuto

Updated, 10 p.m.

Now that is the version of Jake Arrieta the Phillies need, the kind that can solidify a rotation. 

Arrieta pitched a gem and the Phillies hit two homers in a four-run fourth inning to beat the Braves 5-0 in Saturday's series opener at Citizens Bank Park.

The win gets the Phillies to .500 at 4-4. The Braves are 9-6.

J.T. Realmuto and Jay Bruce both homered in the decisive fourth. Realmuto's was a bomb to the last row of seats in the first deck in left field. It was his fourth already this season, in 73 fewer plate appearances than it took him last year.

"He's really turned into a premium offensive player over the last couple years," Bruce said of his teammate.

Bruce's came on the first pitch against Braves right-hander Kyle Wright. He started in left and Andrew McCutchen was the DH. The Phils have benefitted from Bruce's extra bat in the lineup with a couple of homers.

Arrieta cruised

It was a strong outing from Arrieta, who was locked-in and efficient and sounded encouraged after the game. He put only two Braves on base over his first five innings on a pair of singles. He struck out six and his sinker sat 93-94 mph. 

Arrieta pitched out of a potential jam in his final inning, finding fortune in the form of a Dansby Swanson line drive right at shortstop Didi Gregorius, who threw to second to double off Adeiny Hechavarria.

Through two starts, Arrieta is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA. 

"What I've seen in the first two starts is extremely impressive in its execution," manager Joe Girardi said of Arrieta after the game. "He was really sharp tonight again. It's really encouraging. I feel really good about what he's going to do."

Arrieta pitched through an elbow injury last summer. He did not have the proper feel of his breaking ball and it affected his entire repertoire. There were nights when he didn't seem to know where the ball was going. 

Different story so far in 2020.

“I have more weapons at my disposal than I’ve had the last couple years," Arrieta said. "I feel like I’m gonna be able to maintain the feel of my stuff deeper into games.”

Gotta love those three-run dingers

Bruce's three-run homer in the fourth inning was the Phillies' fourth in eight games this season. Realmuto has two; Bryce Harper and Bruce have one apiece.

The Phils have hit 12 homers in their eight games. They entered Saturday night ranked first in the majors in on-base percentage, sixth in slugging and fourth in OPS. The offense would be receiving more credit if it wasn't overshadowed by the bullpen's early-season meltdowns.

J.T. is on fire

An inning after hitting his fourth homer, Realmuto flew out to the scoreboard in right-center, just missing another one. He lined out to sharply to center in his final AB. Even the outs are crushed right now.

Realmuto has been the Phillies' best offensive player so far. They needed him to start fast and he has. Last season, Realmuto was still hitting in the .250s in July with an OPS in the mid-.700s. He drove the ball over his final 200 plate appearances to finish with a solid offensive year.

Over his last 55 games dating back to last July 27, Realmuto has hit .305/.356/.634 with 17 home runs and 46 RBI.

"J.T.'s super talented. He does so many things for this team," Girardi said. "As good as he is offensively, he puts his heart and his soul in defense and calling games. J.T.'s a player you don't have to worry about being prepared. That's what every manager wants.

"I hope he stays really hot for like three months."

Bullpen holds up again

Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter and Deolis Guerra combined for three scoreless innings and allowed just one baserunner. The Phillies' bullpen has allowed two runs in eight innings in its last two games, two steps in the right direction.

Before the game, pitching coach Bryan Price talked about the need for the "second layer" of Phillies relievers to step up with so many doubleheaders on the schedule.

Harper does it with defense

Harper, who reprioritized defense prior to a strong 2019, continues to impress in the field. He made this diving catch in the fifth inning Saturday. He also went 2 for 4 with a double.

The Phillies' defense has not been an issue so far. They've committed just three errors in eight games, none from their new left side of the infield. Jean Segura bobbled a hot shot to third base in the first inning but recovered to get Swanson by a step at first base. It was the kind of play that could have altered the game early if it wasn't made, especially ahead of Freddie Freeman.

Twin bill on Sundee

The Phillies play a seven-inning doubleheader against the Braves Sunday beginning at 1:05 p.m. Game 2 will begin 40 minutes after Game 1. 

Vince Velasquez will start in one of the games and top prospect Spencer Howard will make his MLB debut in the other.

The four-game wraparound series ends Monday night when Aaron Nola faces Atlanta.

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What makes Spencer Howard such an exciting piece of Phillies' future?

What makes Spencer Howard such an exciting piece of Phillies' future?

Spencer Howard is coming. The Phillies said everything they could say Saturday without making it official that Howard, their top prospect, will make his MLB debut starting one of the two games of their doubleheader Sunday.

Manager Joe Girardi really left things up to interpretation before the Phillies' series opener against the Braves, saying the nod would go to a young right-hander with the initials S.H. A few minutes later, he said that he was "not ready to make an official announcement until tomorrow, but if nothing changes, you can expect it to be Spencer Howard."

Plenty of hype surrounds the 24-year-old Howard, the Phillies' second-round pick in 2017. He has the tools of an ace.

"Big fastball, really good slider-changeup combination, emerging curveball," pitching coach Bryan Price said Saturday in a 15-minute Zoom call that was almost entirely about Howard. "And he throws strikes, he competes well, controls the running game. He's a very polished young guy with a big arm. 

"Quite often when you find guys with velocity, it takes time for them to figure out command or how to sequence their pitches. I just think he's a polished kid. I think he's ready to come up and help us."

That description of the typical young pitcher with velocity who takes time to figure it out applies to the pitcher Howard is poised to eventually replace in the Phillies' rotation: Vince Velasquez. Velasquez, at 28, doesn't have much rope left. He has a 4.75 ERA in more than 100 appearances as a Phillie (93 starts). He's allowed 1.53 home runs per nine innings as a Phillie, easily the highest home run rate of any pitcher in Phillies history with as many innings.

The Phillies could still end up starting Velasquez throughout the 2020 season because they have six doubleheaders over the next six weeks, i.e. six instances when they'll need a sixth starting pitcher.

It will be interesting Sunday to compare and contrast Howard and Velasquez in the two starts. It would not be a surprise to see Howard strike out eight Braves over five scoreless innings. Nor would it be a surprise if he struggled in his first start against a potent big-league lineup.

"He has deception, he pitches with a high fastball but can also create good downward angle," Price said. "I think getting the first one under his belt — hopefully there are many more to come in Philadelphia — is something we're all excited to see."

Howard was a late bloomer. He did not start games until his junior season at Cal Poly. His freshman season, he was one of the last players to make the roster. In the span of just a few years, his velocity rose from the upper-80s to the 90s to the point that he touched 100 mph in the minors.

"One of the great things about the sport of baseball is that not everybody is a prodigy. Not everybody is Alex Rodriguez or Bryce Harper, on the map at 15, 16, 17 years old," Price said.

"I think in Spencer's case, he had to have that skill set in there. The aptitude and the feel. And so as the arm strength built, he had enough feel for pitching to make some really significant strides in a short period of time."

The next step: A start in South Philly against the NL East favorites.

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