PHILS INSIDER

Vince Velasquez joins the pennant race just in time

PHILS INSIDER

Early on, it had all the makings of one of those infuriating Vinny Velasquez nights, you know, high pitch count, interminable innings, the bullpen phone ringing by the third inning.

And then, all of sudden, things changed.

After a rocky beginning Saturday night, Velasquez found a nice groove and rode it all the way to his first win in 368 days as the Phillies made it three straight good ones in a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at chilly Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils are 27-25 as they enter their final home game of the season Sunday afternoon. A win would give them a four-game sweep of the Blue Jays.

"The two wins (in Friday's doubleheader) was huge for us," catcher Andrew Knapp said. "It was a big confidence boost. Then to come out today and win a tough one … We're just going to try to keep this thing rolling."

The Phils entered Saturday holding the seventh seed in the National League playoffs. With eight games left, there's still plenty of time to squander that spot, but also plenty of time to lock it down.

This Phillies season has been marked by inconsistency, dramatic highs and ugly lows. The performance turned in Saturday night suggested that the Phils are intent on locking down the playoff spot that sits in front of them.

They got timely hitting — five hits in the bottom of the fifth inning to fuel a two-run rally that gave them the lead against a very good pitcher in Hyun-Jin Ryu — and excellent bullpen work from the trio of Blake Parker, David Phelps and Tommy Hunter in closing it out.

 

"Nine up, nine down," manager Joe Girardi said of the bullpen's night. "It doesn't get any better than that."

The star of the night was Velasquez.

With injuries and doubleheaders stacking up, he has suddenly become very important to this team again. In his longest outing of the season, he delivered six innings of two-run ball, walked three and struck out six. He gave up a solo homer to Travis Shaw on a changeup in the top of the fifth. On some nights, that would have been the unraveling point for Velasquez. But not this night. It was just the sixth time in 29 starts over this season and last that Velasquez had pitched more than five innings.

"Big start for Vinny Velasquez," Girardi said. "Big start."

"It was big for him and big for us," Knapp said. "For him to do that tonight was enormous."

Funny thing, the night did not start off smoothly for Velasquez. He walked the first batter of the game then, after getting the first out, appeared to be in distress. Girardi and an athletic trainer hustled to the mound. Turns out, Velasquez couldn't get his footing on the mound. The grounds crew made a quick repair to the mound and Velasquez carried on.

However, the right-hander's pitch count soared quickly. He was up to 69 after three innings and it appeared as if it was going to be a short night.

In the dugout after the third inning, Knapp spoke to Velasquez.

"The first couple of innings, we were getting outs, but it was taking too many pitches," Knapp said. "We kind of sat down and said, 'Hey, we need some quick innings. You've got to give us some quick innings.' And he did. It was huge."

Knapp expounded on what he told Velasquez after the third inning.

"I just told him to focus on bearing down and getting early contact," Knapp said. "He has swing-and-miss stuff and he knows it. But it was taking too many pitches. We talked about when it's 0-2, try to get the strikeout, but when it's 1-2 or 2-2, we need the ball in play. They weren't catching up to the fastball at all. We needed some outs. Besides one changeup that stayed up, it was pretty much lights out."

The Jays roughed up Velasquez in August. They didn't give him a lot of credit after this one.

"We chased a lot of bad pitches and that allowed the other guy to go deep into the game," Toronto manager Charlie Montoya said. "We chased way too many pitches."

Velasquez is a good-hearted guy. He knows his inconsistencies have frustrated people. He was happy to help a team in a pennant race that needed a win and innings from its starting pitcher.

 

"Tonight was huge all around for the team to maintain the position we're in and it was a big booster for myself," the pitcher said. "I definitely needed an outing like this.

"A couple of guys said, 'Hey, man, we needed that out of you.' I was excited about that. It feels good that I did my part. 

"I started out slow and I'm sure people had doubts right about then, but it's how you finish."