Phillies

Velasquez agrees with Bowa — it's time for him to take step forward

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Velasquez agrees with Bowa — it's time for him to take step forward

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — Larry Bowa spent the last two seasons watching Vince Velasquez up close. He saw the incredible talent. He saw the frustrating inconsistency.

When Velasquez’s name came up recently, Bowa, who recently moved to the front office after a four-year run as Phillies bench coach, said just two words (see story).

“It’s time.”

Velasquez agrees. He’s 25. He has two seasons of major-league experience. It’s time for him to put it all together and take a serious step forward.

“Definitely. Definitely,” he said. “I agree. Yeah. One-hundred percent.”

In two seasons with the Phillies, the centerpiece of Matt Klentak’s first big trade as Phillies GM has shown the occasional flash of brilliance, such as a 16-strikeout game against San Diego in April 2016. Way too often, however, Velasquez has had to leave games early because of poor command and soaring pitch counts. He’s also experienced some injuries.

Velasquez made his Grapefruit League debut against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. He showed that power fastball — up to 95 mph — in striking out two in the first inning. He also showed some of the inconsistency that has dotted his career when he allowed three hits and a walk en route to being charged with three runs in the second inning of a 7-1 loss. The pitch that hurt Velasquez in that inning was an 0-2 fastball that Teoscar Hernandez hit off the wall.

“Fastball outside,” Velasquez said. “Good pitch selection, but maybe not the best location. We have a plan to attack on 0-2 counts. That’s not the area to do it. Either bounce one or elevate. This is where you learn. Make mistakes now and capitalize later.”

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler raved about what he saw from Velasquez in the first inning.

“Absolutely electric,” Kapler said. “It was ‘wow.’ Some of the changeups were falling-off-the-table good.

“The second inning he got some contact up in the air. That’s going to happen when you ask guys to pitch up in the zone.”

Kapler loved what he saw of Mark Leiter Jr. in his two innings. It was hard not to. He allowed just one hit and struck out five.

“It was one of the brighter spots of the spring,” Kapler said of Leiter's work. “The splitter was working. We asked him to execute fastballs up in the zone and use the split off that and he did that to perfection. He pounded the strike zone. Hitters looked like they knew the split was coming. They made the adjustment in their mind and they were still unable to lay off it. That’s the sign of a really good pitch.”

Leiter throws about seven different pitches and is a bulldog competitor, as Kapler is learning.

“He’s so tenacious,” Kapler said. “It’s really a pleasure. I wish we could plug that mentality into position players.”

Odubel Herrera, Carlos Santana lead way as Phillies crush Nationals

Odubel Herrera, Carlos Santana lead way as Phillies crush Nationals

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WASHINGTON — If Odubel Herrera keeps this up, he’s going to find himself right back in this city next month.

And not to visit the monuments.

Herrera swung a potent bat again Friday night in helping the Phillies beat up on the Washington Nationals, 12-2 (see first take). The win allowed the Phils to leap over the Nats and into second place in the NL East. The Phils are 40-33. The Nats are 40-34. Atlanta leads the division.

There’s still an entire summer of baseball to play before a division winner is crowned. But the Phils, who went 66-96 last season, were feeling pretty good about themselves after winning this one.

“At this point, in a lot of ways, we've proven ourselves,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We're a pretty good ballclub. We have gone toe to toe with some of the best teams in the league and done a pretty good job. At some point, it stops being that we're trying to prove ourselves and we're just competing with really good teams. I think that's where we are.”

The Philies have won eight of their last 11 and much of that run has coincided with Herrera’s re-awakening at the plate.

Herrera was leading the NL in hitting at .361 on May 17. Over the next 23 games, he hit .161 (15 for 93) to fall to .283. He is back up to .308 thanks to a four-hit game Friday night. He homered, stroked three singles and scored four runs.

Over the last eight games, Herrera is 17 for 36 (.472) with six homers and nine RBIs.

Herrera joined some fine company in the third inning when he homered for the fifth straight game. The only other Phillies to do that are Rhys Hoskins, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, Mike Schmidt and Dick Allen.

“All I’m thinking about is helping the team win,” Herrera said. “It’s always satisfying to beat great teams like the Nationals. That’s what you play for. Everyone here is a competitor. You always want to see where you're at. It’s a good challenge for us. Luckily for me, I’m hitting the ball well.”

So well that he could end up back in the All-Star Game. Herrera was the lone Phillie in the game two years ago. This year’s game will be played in Washington.

“I’m playing hard. I’m giving my best,” Herrera said. “If it happens it will be great. That’s what you work for.”

Starter Zach Eflin won his fourth straight start with five innings of two-run ball and relievers Austin Davis, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis did the rest.

“Every guy who pitched for us today was not on our opening day roster,” Kapler said. “So here we are, in a very important series in the middle of the summer, and we're playing the Nationals. Kudos to our player development department, an excellent job developing these guys. These guys came in and threw strikes and attacked the strike zone.”

The Phillies had 15 hits. They struck out 13 times, but they drew eight walks and pushed Washington starter Tanner Roark from the game at 4 1/3 innings and 113 pitches.

“Our offense played Phillies-style offense,” Kapler said. “What we've been preaching all year long. Deep counts. We worked walks at the end of the counts. We found ways to put the ball in play. And drive the baseball. I thought we did a really good job. Roark is a tough dude. Really impressive to see us grind him out. I was really impressed with the way we worked counts from the very beginning of the game.”

One of those deep counts came in the first inning when Roark fell behind Carlos Santana, 3-0. With one out and runners on second and third, Kapler gave Santana the green light and Santana lined a pitch that was off the plate into left field for two runs.

“Carlos prides himself on drawing walks,” Kapler said. “He wants to have 100 walks a season. It's an excellent goal. That's why he's so valuable whether he's swinging the bat the way he wants to or not.

"However, every once and a while, he's going to get into a 3-0 count with runners on base and he might be the best guy in the lineup to do damage in that moment. And we like him to sometimes be ultra-aggressive. It doesn't mean you go way out of the strike zone to attack. But maybe you expand just a little bit. You know where the barrel is and you're in an advantageous position against the pitcher. I'm really happy that was his decision.”

Santana also had a two-run homer en route to a four-RBI night. Nick Williams drove in three runs. Cesar Hernandez had three hits and Andrew Knapp homered.

Since May 1, Santana has 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 45 games.

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Phillies make statement in blowout of Nationals for 40th win of season

Phillies make statement in blowout of Nationals for 40th win of season

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WASHINGTON — An off day in the schedule didn’t cool off Odubel Herrera’s molten bat. 

Or Carlos Santana’s.

Herrera had four hits and scored four runs to help the quietly heating-up Phillies beat up on the Washington Nationals, 12-2, on Friday night.

Santana drove in four runs.

The Phils had 15 hits, including three homers. They struck out 13 times, but walked eight times.

The win inched the Phillies (40-33) a half game ahead of the Nationals (40-34) in the NL East standings. The Atlanta Braves lead the division.

The Phils have won eight of their last 11 games.

Right-hander Zach Eflin (5-2) earned his fourth straight victory with five innings of two-run ball. He was supported by plenty of offense.

Herrera homered for the fifth straight game and sixth in the last seven. He also singled three times as his batting average climbed back over .300.

Over the last eight games, Herrera is 17 for 36 (.472) with six homers and nine RBIs.

Santana drove in two runs with a first-inning single against Washington starter Tanner Roark. He also blasted a two-run homer in the sixth inning. He also walked twice and scored three runs.

Since May 1, Santana has 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 45 games.

Nick Williams also had a pair of hits and three RBIs.

Andrew Knapp hit the Phillies’ third homer of the game in the ninth inning.

Relievers Austin Davis, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis combined on four shutout innings of relief.

Notes
• The Phillies signed veteran infielder Danny Espinosa to a minor-league deal. He will join the Triple A Lehigh Valley team and provide depth. He has been released from three organizations this season — the Yankees in spring training and the Blue Jays and Dodgers during the season.

• Pat Neshek will get some work for Single A Clearwater on Saturday. He has not pitched in the majors this season because of shoulder and forearm injuries. Manager Gabe Kapler said it was possible that Neshek could be back as early as the middle of next week, depending on how he progresses.

• Saturday is an important day for Jerad Eickhoff as he will start throwing his curveball in the bullpen. That pitch had caused discomfort in the fingers on his right hand (see story).

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