Phillies

Vince Velasquez is ticked off about being assigned to Phillies' bullpen ... wait, no he's not

Vince Velasquez is ticked off about being assigned to Phillies' bullpen ... wait, no he's not

MILWAUKEE — Vince Velasquez did his best Emily Litella impersonation Friday.

You remember the old Gilda Radner Saturday Night Live skit, right?

Never mind!

(If you don’t remember it, or are too young to, break out the ol’ Googler and type in the words ‘Emily Litella violins.’ Real humor. Still hilarious after all these years.)

Anyway, the Phillies activated Velasquez from the injured list and assigned him to the bullpen before Friday night’s game against the Brewers.

Three hours before the game, Velasquez was asked for comment about the move. He clearly was not pleased, saying he did not believe he should have lost his spot in the starting rotation after a couple of poor starts and a brief trip to the IL.

“I only had two bad starts,” Velasquez said. “I guess if they were going to come down to that decision and that I didn’t do my job in those two starts, it sucks. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. I started out pretty hot and for them to decide after two starts that I should be in the bullpen is kind of a bummer.”

Velasquez also seemed miffed with the way the message was delivered to him.

“Just pretty much, ‘You’re activated. Welcome back. You’re going to sit in the bullpen,’“ he said.

He added that he would like to have gotten more clarity on his role because he still hoped to fill a starter’s role on Tuesday — and would be disappointed if he didn’t.

About an hour after venting to reporters in the clubhouse, Velasquez sought out the same reporters in the dugout and asked if he could clarify his remarks.

Enter Emily Litella.

Never mind!

The pitcher had just met with manager Gabe Kapler and hashed out a few things. He felt better now.

“Kap and I, we're kind of on the same page now,” Velasquez said. “Got some things off my shoulder and kind of just know what my role is now. [Previously], I didn't know. Everything was kind of up in the air. I was clueless. I didn't know what was going on. I was just kind of guessing and now it seemed like we got on the same page in general.”

Depending on what happens this weekend in Milwaukee, Velasquez could still end up starting Tuesday. Or Nick Pivetta could get the nod.

In his second meeting with reporters, Velasquez amended his remarks and said he would not be disappointed if he did not start Tuesday.

“We kind of squashed that,” he said. “Again, I've done relieving before. I've done both so I know what it entails. I'm actually pretty all right with it at this point.”

Going with Pivetta on Tuesday could be read as an indication that the team is beginning to transition Velasquez to the bullpen. The idea has been talked about for a couple of years and it seems as if the time has come. Kapler seems intrigued by the idea and said he would not hesitate to use Velasquez’s power arm in one-to-two-inning bursts this weekend, even in high-leverage situations.

“Sometimes it’s, ‘Let’s find out,’“ Kapler said. “These guys are not made of glass. They’re strong athletes. Sometimes you just try to win the game with the best pieces you have.”

Kapler stressed that there was still an unknown in using Velasquez out of the ‘pen — and that’s how will his body bounce back.

Kapler met with reporters before Velasquez spoke with reporters Friday. The manager’s telling of the details of informing Velasquez of the move to the bullpen was different than the pitcher’s.

“He was especially comfortable with the idea last night,” Kapler said during his meeting with reporters shortly after the clubhouse opened Friday afternoon. "[Pitching coach] Chris Young and I had a little text message conversation with him where he seemed excited when we told him he was officially going to be activated today and available, and I had an additional conversation with him today to kind of go through the possibilities again. He seems not just excited but on board. I don’t think we’re ever going to get to that place where he feels ‘I’m not still potentially a starting pitcher.’ However, he was a team player, to say the least.”

OK.

It took a little hissing and moaning from Velasquez and another meeting with the skipper, but eventually the pitcher got on board with the plan.

Tune in to Weekend Update for Emily Litella’s take on the matter.

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With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

ATLANTA — A one-sentence summary of the Phillies' series finale Sunday against the Braves? Sean Rodriguez was by far their best pitcher.

The Phillies were blown out, 15-1, in a game when they used an opener for the second time this season (see observations). Gabe Kapler told Vince Velasquez late Saturday night that he would get the "start," and the plan was to ride Velasquez for 50 to 60 pitches before turning to lefty Cole Irvin.

Velasquez, Irvin, Jerad Eickhoff, none of them came close to getting the job done. All three allowed consistently hard, loud contact. The Braves had nine extra-base hits and three more deep fly balls crushed to the warning track.

"We knew we were gonna bring Cole, we knew we had length out of Jerad and thought we could get 50 to 60 pitches out of Vince," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We did all those things, we just didn't do it effectively."

It was ugly from start to finish, and it again highlighted the Phillies' need to go get a starting pitcher right now. Not on July 10, not on July 20, not on July 31 but now. You can't force another team to trade with you, but let's forget for a minute about the top end of the market, the tier of Matt Boyd, Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke. The Phillies just need another reliable arm that can give them six innings, get through a lineup three times. Maybe that arm comes from the minor-league system.

While it's true that most teams have a shaky fifth starter, most teams also have a few trustworthy arms ahead of them in the rotation. The Phillies do not right now. Aaron Nola has a 4.89 ERA. Jake Arrieta has a 4.31 ERA. Nick Pivetta is trending in the right direction, and Zach Eflin has been very good for much of the season, but this quartet has not collectively performed like a playoff rotation.

One thing looks abundantly clear, though: The Phillies cannot continue with the opener experiment with this personnel. Velasquez doesn't have the command, Irvin and Eickhoff don't have the stuff to keep the Phillies in the game against a lineup as potent as the Braves'.

What happens Friday when this rotation spot comes up again?

"We have a lot of work to do, a lot of discussions to have," Kapler said. "No question about it, we have to be better and we'll discuss it more on the flight to Washington, D.C., and get our ducks in a row.

"We haven't pitched our best recently. I think that we have a better level of play in us in totality and I have trust in our starting pitchers — Nick, Jake, Nola, obviously Eflin has been outstanding. We have a group of guys who have a track record of success and Nick has been sensational since he's back from the minor leagues. There's some confidence there."

The Phils clearly don't have a ton of confidence in Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff as starting pitchers or else one of them would have the No. 5 starter's job. Actions always speak louder than words.

Irvin's ERA is 6.84, Eickhoff has allowed 18 home runs in his last 28 innings, and Velasquez hasn't been able to take his team deep into games.

Who is next? Ranger Suarez? Enyel De Los Santos? Ramon Rosso? Adonis Medina? The decision won't be made for several days.

"I think we'll rebound from this with ease," Velasquez said. "I think it's just one of those games where these guys are hot and we've got to tip our caps off to them and keep moving forward. 

"They had a solid month, and we're right on their tails. I don't think it's one of those things where we should necessarily give up as a pitching staff or as an offensive team."

The Braves have been the hottest team in the NL, winning 24 of their last 34 games. And Velasquez does have a point — as well as Atlanta has played of late, as many injuries as the Phillies have, the deficit is only 2½ games. They can make that up in a series. 

But to do so, they need the starting staff to carry them for a bit. It hasn't been able to the way it was the first half of 2018. With so many key relievers injured, with Andrew McCutchen out for the season and Jay Bruce and J.T. Realmuto banged up, that is the unit that must step up. 

Can they do it? Can they keep the Phillies in the game against Patrick Corbin Monday, Max Scherzer Wednesday and Stephen Strasburg Thursday? If not, the gap between the Phillies and the Braves will only grow wider.

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Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — The Phillies' need for another starting pitcher has not been more glaring than it was Sunday afternoon in a totally embarrassing 15-1 loss to the Braves.

With no fifth starter currently on the Phillies' roster, Gabe Kapler went with Vince Velasquez as an opener in Sunday's series finale and it did not work.

Velasquez hit Ronald Acuña Jr. on an 0-2 pitch to begin the game, before Dansby Swanson singled and Freddie Freeman hit a two-run double. In all, Velasquez allowed four runs in 2⅓ innings before giving way to Cole Irvin.

Irvin didn't fare any better, giving up a long two-run homer to the second batter he faced, Josh Donaldson, then giving up loud contact the next few frames. Irvin gave up six runs in 3⅔ innings as the Braves built an eight-run lead that only grew and grew.

Jerad Eickhoff, formerly the No. 5 starter, entered next and allowed two more home runs. Eickhoff has been taken deep an astonishing 18 times in his last 28 innings.

The Phillies didn't hit, didn't play good defense and definitely didn't pitch well.

They need to quickly figure out the back of this rotation. Granted, the next time the fifth spot in the rotation comes up is against the lowly Marlins Friday at Citizens Bank Park, but the league just isn't being fooled by Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff.

Other options would be Enyel De Los Santos, Ranger Suarez or a pitching prospect like Adonis Medina, who is on the 40-man roster and is on a nice little roll at Double A Reading, going 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his last five starts.

The Phillies are 39-32 and 2½ games behind the Braves in the NL East. The Braves are 24-10 in their last 34 games, six games better than the Phillies over that span.

The Phils have lost 10 of their last 16.

Down two starters

The Phillies were without starting catcher J.T. Realmuto and leftfielder Jay Bruce in this one. Realmuto exited Saturday's game after taking a foul ball to the groin and Bruce left with hamstring tightness. Both are day to day and will avoid the injured list. 

It's possible one or both are back in the lineup Monday, though it could be Tuesday.

This is what a deep lineup looks like

Back when the Phillies had Andrew McCutchen and there was still hope/optimism about Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, they had what looked like one of baseball's deepest lineups. That is no longer the case. On Sunday, the Phils' 5-through-8 hitters were Cesar Hernandez, Nick Williams, Franco and Andrew Knapp. Not going to scare anyone.

The Braves just have a much better lineup. In order:

1) Acuña Jr. is a beast. 

2) Swanson has an OPS over .800.

3) Freeman is one of the two best hitters in the National League. 

4) Donaldson is a former MVP and a dangerous right-handed bat that is starting to get hot. 

5) Nick Markakis is a clutch left-handed hitter who rarely strikes out. 

6) Austin Riley will be in the Rookie of the Year conversation and might win it.

7) Ozzie Albies has blazing speed and at .281, has a higher batting average than every Phillies starter except Scott Kingery.

It helps that the Braves have had eight fewer injuries than the Phillies, none to their current starting lineup. But the gap in offenses right now is impossible to overlook.

Up next

The Phillies are in D.C. to play four games against the Nationals, who are 9-5 in June. The Phils will face all three of the Nationals' top starting pitching trio.

All four games are at 7:05 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Monday: Jake Arrieta (6-5, 4.31) vs. LHP Patrick Corbin (5-5, 4.11)

Tuesday: Zach Eflin (6-6, 2.81) vs. Erick Fedde (1-1, 3.68)

Wednesday: Nick Pivetta (4-1, 5.00) vs. Max Scherzer (5-5, 2.81)

Thursday: Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.89) vs. Stephen Strasburg (7-4, 3.75)

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