MILWAUKEE — Nothing turns a frown upside down quite like two scoreless innings, four strikeouts, 97 mph on the radar gun, a pitching victory and a team victory.
Vince Velasquez began his day at Miller Park on Friday feeling irked that he was being sent to the bullpen on his first day off the injured list. His day began to get better after he had a little air-clearing meeting with manager Gabe Kapler and it ended with a blast of euphoria when he turned out to be one of the stars of the Phillies’ 6-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers (see observations).
“Great time,” Velasquez said after his first relief appearance of the season. “Great time.”
Velasquez entered a tie game in the fifth and survived a walk and a hit to the first two batters on his way to two scoreless innings. The enigmatic right-hander wasn’t the only bullpen star. He combined with Edgar Garcia, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris (three Ks) on six shutout innings after Jerad Eickhoff departed after three innings.
There was some bad news out of the bullpen. Veteran right-hander Pat Neshek’s tumultuous week concluded with his feeling a pop in his shoulder while playing catch before the game. He is headed home to Philadelphia to be checked. He will go to the injured list and the Phils will add a pitcher for Saturday’s game.
The Phils’ bullpen has carried a heavy load lately. The six innings pitched Friday night upped its total to 47 1/3 innings over the last 12 games. That’s the third most in the majors over that span. The relievers have recorded a 3.61 ERA over that span.
After the game, Kapler was asked if he was concerned about the number of innings — both in the short term and cumulatively — that the bullpen was being forced to pick up because the starters aren’t getting deep into games. He did not directly answer the question.
“I think what inspires me is that we’ve leaned on them and they continue to bounce back and be resilient and today they won the baseball game for us,” he said.
The bullpen had some help in winning the baseball game.
On defense, catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura combined to cut down a run at the plate to help Velasquez get out of the fifth. It was a huge play and the Phils took the lead the next inning. Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins all had big, run-scoring hits to help the Phils tie and take control of the game.
But Kapler was right. The work of the bullpen was huge, especially against a team that outscored the Phils 22-6 over the final three games of a four-game series last week in Philadelphia.
Velasquez gave the ‘pen a huge lift.
“Wow,” Kapler said. “Especially in the second inning of work. He was just electric and as good as we’ve seen him. The fastball was exploding like we’ve seen in some starts, but I can’t remember the last time it looked that good. The second inning of work was really impressive.”
Could Velasquez continue to be a bullpen weapon?
“I think that remains to be seen because like I said earlier, I’d like to see how he responds tomorrow and how his body bounces back,” Kapler said. “I will say this: there was a little bit of a delivery change in the second inning. He used his backside a little bit more effectively and really drove his momentum towards home plate. The ball was just jumping out of his hand tremendously.”
Realmuto said Velasquez has the stuff to succeed in any role. But as a reliever …
“I think he has the stuff to succeed whether we throw him out there as a starter, throw him out there as a middle relief guy, late-inning guy,” Realmuto said. “He's got the stuff to play anywhere, you know? He's got the stuff to get through the lineup multiple times and then the role like tonight, his stuff just plays up. Coming into the middle of the game like that, it's hard to get on time for stuff like that when they haven't seen it yet, so I feel like he can succeed in any role we put him in.
“He was huge for us today. He came out throwing bullets. It's fun to be back there catching him again. Obviously saw how much life he had on his fastball. I felt like after his first hitter, he really honed in on it and just let it rip. It was huge for us.”
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