Phillies

Game 1 of Phillies-Nationals doubleheader has one of the smallest crowds you'll ever see

Game 1 of Phillies-Nationals doubleheader has one of the smallest crowds you'll ever see

You never know what you're gonna see at the ol' ballyard.

On Monday, there were multiple flamethrowers in the infield.

On Tuesday, there were ... multiple fans in attendance.

The crowd for Game 1 of the Phillies-Nationals doubleheader is the smallest in memory at Citizens Bank Park. There were approximately 500 fans in their seats at first pitch. It was so quiet that you could hear most individual fans' encouragement or criticism.

Have a look.

The Phillies had 39 players, including 20 pitchers, active for the doubleheader. So there were nearly 10 percent as many people in the Phillies' dugout and bullpen as there were in the stands when Nick Pivetta took the hill.

Even though few were there to see it as the doubleheader began, this is a hugely important day for the Phillies. Because of the doubleheader, the Phils can make up more ground on the Braves Tuesday than any day the rest of the season. They entered the day a season-high five games back in the NL East.

The Phillies have split all three doubleheaders they've had this season. All were against inferior teams in the Mets, Mets and Padres.

This is the first time since 2011 the Phillies have played four doubleheaders in a season and the first time since 2006 they've had three doubleheaders after the All-Star break.

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This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

CLEARWATER, Fla. – In four seasons with the Phillies, Vince Velasquez has teased with his potential and frustrated with his inconsistency.

But at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

Standing in front of his locker at Spectrum Field on Monday afternoon, Velasquez made a pack of reporters break into laughter after his spring debut against the Baltimore Orioles.

“I threw 26 pitches in two innings – which is a shocker,” he said comically.

Running high pitch counts early in games has been one of the reasons for Velasquez’ frustrating inconsistency.

“The past three or four years, it’s always been an issue,” the 27-year-old right-hander said.

He’s trying to address the shortcoming – and several others – this spring under new pitching coach Bryan Price, who just might be the most popular guy in camp right now, at least with a pitching staff that is eating up everything he has to say, especially when it comes to pitching down in the strike zone.

“I’ve developed a lot of confidence with Bryan and really trust in his work,” Velasquez said. “I’ve told you guys so many times that I have that confidence to be that pitcher and I think Bryan is the guy who is going to pull that out of me.”

When Velasquez says, “that pitcher,” he means, that starting pitcher. He knows he’s in a battle for the fifth starter’s job. He knows about all the talk of possibly ending up in the bullpen when camp breaks.

But he wants to start.

“I know what the task is at hand,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what I have to do to earn that spot. Today was a good display of what I can be. It seemed like everything was working in my favor. I walked the first guy and then got some ground balls. I executed pitches down in the zone.”

Velasquez allowed just one hit, a walk and he struck out one in his two innings of work. The Phillies won the game, 8-7.

Velasquez is competing mostly with Nick Pivetta for the No. 5 starter’s job. Lefty Ranger Suarez, who will get a start Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, is also in the mix.

Manager Joe Girardi has stressed that the competition for jobs has not really started yet, that the first couple of starts are a time to prepare for the competition that will come in March. But he is clearly watching. He liked what he saw of Velasquez on Monday. He especially liked the economy of pitches.

“He was very efficient,” Girardi said. “That's how you get deep in games. If you're throwing 20 pitches every inning, it's not a very long night.”

At least not for the starter.

Sometimes it is for the team.

Girardi mentioned how much he liked seeing Velasquez execute pitches down in the strike zone. Last year, Velasquez was encouraged to work the top of the strike zone. He has the giddy-up on his fastball to do that, but locating the pitch was a problem and poorly located pitches up in the zone turn into trouble and short outings.

“He got outs down in the zone, not just up in the zone, which he's done a lot in the past,” Girardi said. “But he got outs down in the zone. Because he did that, he was pretty efficient. He got a strikeout down there. He got a double play down there. So, I was encouraged by what he did.”

Velasquez believes he was too predictable last season, that he got away from throwing his changeup and lived too high in the zone with his fastball. He still wants to elevate and has the stuff to do it, but he also wants to work the lower part of the zone with his fastball like he did Monday.

“I was living at the top of the zone 95 percent of the time,” he said. “Every game plan was always at the top of the zone, so, again, you’ve got to learn how to change speeds and live up and down and in and out.

“I have the weapon to go up in the zone. That pitch just makes it even more useful to go down in the zone. You can’t be too predictable in this game.”

It’s too early to predict whether Velasquez will end up in the rotation or the bullpen. But if his work the rest of the spring is as efficient as it was Monday, he will give Phillies decision-makers something to think about.

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Joe Girardi and John Kruk relive their painful introduction

Joe Girardi and John Kruk relive their painful introduction

One of the first things Joe Girardi brought up during his introductory press conference as Phillies manager back in October was a bittersweet memory about John Kruk. 

Kruk, a three-time All-Star with the Phils, bowled Girardi over during a collision at home plate in the summer of 1991. Girardi held on for the out but his nose was broken. 

It’s the kind of violent play you’d never see again. Home-plate collisions have been outlawed in MLB since 2014. Colloquially, it’s referred to as the Buster Posey rule. Posey’s left leg was broken in 2011 when the Marlins’ Scott Cousins collided with him at home plate.

That play in 1991 didn’t lead to any kind of beef between Girardi, then a catcher for the Cubs, and Kruk. In fact, Kruk was one of the first people to contact Girardi while Girardi was in the hospital. 

"The bill of his helmet hit my nose, so that was my introduction to John Kruk,” Girardi told the Phils’ announcers during the Phillies-Pirates game Sunday on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

"If I'm not mistaken, being the sweetheart of a guy he was, you either called me when I was in the hospital or you came and saw me when they were examining my nose. I think I got a couple of stitches."

Kruk remembers it well.

"I didn't like many people, Joe., but you were actually one of them I did like,” Kruk said. “That's why I called you. If it was ... well I'm not going to name any names, some other catchers, I wouldn't have called them. I just enjoyed competing against you."

It’s all love, but they won’t be reenacting that experience any time soon.

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