The Phillies have made tremendous progress this season. They are 61-48 and in first place in the NL East after 109 games.
They won just 66 games all of last season.
Within the team’s improvement has been the individual progress of several key players.
Vince Velasquez might be tops on that list.
Since joining the Phillies in a December 2015 trade from Houston, Velasquez has flashed dazzling potential and the occasional eye-popping start. But the right-hander’s time in a Phillies uniform has been plagued by too much inconsistency and too many nagging injuries.
Vince Velasquez is healthy. And he's getting it. All that talent is coming together. He is rewarding the Phillies’ patience with him, quieting the doubters who said he belonged in the bullpen.
The right-hander, who turned 26 less than two months ago, pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings to lead a 5-1 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night (see first take). He gave up just two hits, walked one and struck out seven.
Three months ago, manager Gabe Kapler said there was “a brilliant pitcher” lurking deep inside of Velasquez.
It is coming out now. Since June 25, Velasquez has allowed just five earned runs in 33 1/3 innings over his last seven outings, six of which have been starts. He has 32 strikeouts and has held opposing hitters to a .168 batting average over that span. For the season, he is 8-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 113 2/3 innings.
“I think at this point, he's proven that he is not just capable but thriving,” Kapler said. “The last month has been really impressive. He's been efficient. He has proven over the course of the last month that he is a force to be reckoned with.”
This is what everyone has been waiting for from Velasquez.
“I would say yes,” he said. “It seems that everything is falling into place now. I’m attacking hitters and following the game plan.”
A lot of things are falling into place for the Phillies. They have won three in a row. They are a half-game up on Atlanta in the NL East. Rhys Hoskins is sizzling at the plate. So is Maikel Franco. And the bullpen has been strong.
Velasquez’s big night included a double. He came around to score the Phillies’ first run on a double by Hoskins, who has 15 RBIs in his last 13 games.
After Velasquez departed, Victor Arano and Seranthony Dominguez both turned in clutch relief work in a close game. The Phillies finally broke it open with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, two coming on a double by Roman Quinn, who entered the game in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement for Hoskins in left field.
Quinn, with his speed, quick bat and strong arm, came up from Triple A last week and has already made the Phillies’ bench better. Kapler will continue to use him to help protect late leads.
“We could see some of that,” Kapler said. “I spoke to Rhys about it. Rhys is always a pro’s pro and completely understands how good Roman is out there and on the bases. When we can get Roman Quinn in the outfield, we’re going to try to do it. He’s got game-changing athleticism, game-changing speed.”
The Phillies won the game in front of a crowd of 33,737. There was some of that old electricity in the air as 2008 World Series hero Shane Victorino was honored before the game (see story). The Phillies have won three in a row and are giving fans plenty of reason to come to games.
“The whole excitement and hype going around the stadium generates the momentum that we strive to have,” Velasquez said. “It drove me to come out on top today and pitch a little better. My whole mentality was to attack hitters. But the fact that we saw fans get on their feet the way they do is a solid inspiration of what we’ll be having the next couple weeks, few months. It’s something I can’t wait for it to happen.”