vince velasquez

Vince Velasquez flirts with no-hitter, shows why Phillies won't give up on him as starter

Vince Velasquez flirts with no-hitter, shows why Phillies won't give up on him as starter

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You ask why the Phillies don’t turn Vince Velasquez into a reliever.

This is why.

Starting pitchers are valuable and the Phillies don’t want to give up on trying to develop Velasquez as one before they are absolutely sure he can’t do it. Performances like Thursday’s support the Phillies’ thinking with the talented but inconsistent right-hander.

Six days after an awful start — maybe the worst of his career, in fact — Velasquez authored one of his best in leading the Phillies past the Colorado Rockies, 9-3, at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday afternoon (see first take).

Velasquez used his power four-seam fastball effectively — he threw that pitch 57 times and got eight swing and misses on it — and controlled the inside part of the strike zone on his way to 6 2/3 innings of one-hit ball. Velasquez had a no-hitter cooking until a two-out walk extended the seventh inning and gave Trevor Story the opportunity to break up the bid with an RBI double. Velasquez exited at 105 pitches after that hit. The Phillies’ offense piled on in the late innings and the team clinched its first series win since May 21-23.

Rhys Hoskins (three RBIs) and Nick Williams (two RBIs) both homered and slumping Odubel Herrera showed signs of breaking out with a pair of singles.

But Velasquez was the story with those 6 2/3 innings of one-hit, two-run ball. He walked two and struck out six.

From his post in left field, Hoskins thought Velasquez was going to get the no-hitter.

“I mean, he's got that kind of stuff, right?” Hoskins said. “That can be him every time out. It was nice to see him pitch. He made pitches when he needed to. He didn't get into a ton of three-ball counts, which I know is big for him, obviously, trying to get deeper into games. But we needed him. We needed him today. It was a big win, big game for us and he showed up.”

The outing came six days after Velasquez had one of those starts that left people screaming, “Make him a reliever!” Velasquez was lit up for nine hits and 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings by the Milwaukee Brewers in that game.

The big difference in this game? Poise. Velasquez kept his emotions in check on the mound. And location of pitches. He threw his fastball inside to hitters, you know, made them a little uncomfortable.

“That was part of the game plan and it actually made things a whole lot easier,” Velasquez said.

Catcher Andrew Knapp made sure Velasquez followed the game plan.

“I think we've kind of built a relationship where Vince kind of gives me the reins to go out and think for him sometimes,” Knapp said. “The stuff is electric, so when he can command the fastball at the top of the zone, it opens up so much for him. We went inside a couple times and kind of brushed some guys off the plate a little bit and that opened up some stuff for us.

“That was the best I've seen him battle. Everything was lined up and we had a really good game plan going in and he kind of trusted himself to go out and make pitches. That's a tough lineup, so for him to go out and do something like that is really good.”

Velasquez, who turned 26 last week, said he wasn’t thinking about a no-hitter as he kept retiring hitters. Truth be told, it would have been difficult for him to complete the no-no with his high pitch count. Had he retired Story at 105 pitches, he probably would have gone out for the eighth inning, manager Gabe Kapler said, but on a short leash.

“As badly as I want him to achieve greatness and a no-hitter, I would never put him at risk,” Kapler said. “I might push him past the point of comfort but I won’t put him at risk long term.”

Velasquez left the mound to a standing ovation. Six days earlier, there had been some boos.

Progress.

And a much-needed win for the Phillies, who head to Milwaukee at 35-31.

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Vince Velasquez flirts with no-hitter as Phillies claim series win over Rockies

Vince Velasquez flirts with no-hitter as Phillies claim series win over Rockies

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Six days after turning in arguably the worst start of his major league career, Vince Velasquez delivered one of his best in leading the Phillies to a 9-3 win over the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank on Thursday afternoon.

Velasquez pitched no-hit ball before Trevor Story smacked an RBI double with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. The hit came on Velasquez’ 105th pitch and he was removed from the game to a standing ovation after that. Tommy Hunter came on and gave up an RBI single to make it a one-run game, but the Phillies hung on then pulled away for their first series win since May 21-23.

The win completed a 3-3 homestand for the Phils (35-31). They play the next three games in Milwaukee.

Velasquez’s last two starts have offered a wide-angle view of the talented but inconsistent 26-year-old right-hander. He was tagged for nine hits and a career-high 10 runs in a 12-4 loss to Milwaukee in his previous outing.

It’s safe to say that Velasquez rebounded nicely in this one (see story). He struck out six batters and walked two. He paid for a two-out walk in the seventh as it extended the inning for Story and led to the Rockies scoring two runs.

Velasquez relied heavily on his four-seam fastball. He threw the pitch 57 times and got eight of his 13 swing and misses on it. He hit 95.5 mph on the radar gun.

Velasquez is now 5-7 with a 4.74 ERA in 14 starts.

Velasquez was backed by the most runs the Phillies have scored in over a month. Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams both hit early home runs then contributed important run-scoring hits in the later innings. Hoskins had three RBIs. The Phillies had averaged just 3.1 runs per game while going 5-11 in their previous six games.

Slumping Odubel Herrera came back from a night off and had a pair of singles, including one that drove in a run in the seventh inning. The Phils scored four times in that inning to pull away.

Up next
Jake Arrieta (5-4, 2.97) pitches against Milwaukee lefty Brent Suter (6-4, 4.61) on Friday night.

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Phillies ring in 1990s Retro Night with '97-like performance

Phillies ring in 1990s Retro Night with '97-like performance

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It was 1990s Retro Night at Citizens Bank Park on Friday and in the spirit of the event the Phillies played a game right out of 1997. If you don’t recall what happened that year, the Phils went 68-94, tying them for the worst record in the National League. That season was lowlighted by a 4-22 performance in the month of June.

Things aren’t that bad in June 2018, but they’re not good either.

With winning teams all over the schedule, June figured to be the month that would determine if these Phillies were for real or not, and how active they might be at the July trade deadline. So far, the month is not going well. The Phils dropped to 1-6 in June with a 12-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Citizens Bank Park (see first take). The Brewers, owners of the National League’s best record, pounded Vince Velasquez for 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings and never looked back.

Since poking their heads into first place in the division for one day last month, the Phillies have gone 3-9. They have hit just .209 over that span and averaged three runs per game while racking up 10 double-digit strikeout games.

Rhys Hoskins is on the disabled list — he may be back Saturday (see story) — and Odubel Herrera has disappeared. Since leading the NL in hitting at .361 on May 17, he is just 15 for 81 (.185) with 23 strikeouts and three walks. He had three of the Phillies’ 11 strikeouts Friday night and has dropped to .298.

Over their last 20 games, the Phils are just 7-13. That has left them just three games over .500 at 32-29.

“I don’t think it’s one thing,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think collectively we’re not performing the way we’re capable of.”

Kapler praised the bullpen’s work Friday night as Mark Leiter Jr., Hector Neris and Victor Arano held the Brewers to two runs in 5 1/3 innings, but the game was long out of hand by the time the bullpen door swung open. The Brewers jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the fourth inning and that was followed by more than a smattering of boos.

Velasquez, the maddeningly inconsistent right-hander who has given the Phils hope with some actual consistency lately, had a forgettable outing. He started off with two quick outs in the first inning then walked two batters before hanging a 2-2 curveball to Ryan Braun, who clubbed it for a three-run homer. He also smacked a two-run homer later in the game. He is hitting .400 (52 for 130) with 10 doubles, a triple, 13 homers and 39 RBIs in 32 career games at Citizens Bank Park.

“First few pitches, I got some ground balls then one walk led to another and I made a mistake on Braun,” Velasquez said. “He hunts mistakes. He capitalized on it and after that it was kind of a snowball effect.

“Bad pitch [to Braun]. It wasn’t bad pitch selection. The execution was just horrible. Guys got really comfortable going outside and I didn’t make the adjustment going inside.”

It was just two weeks ago that the Phils were a season-best nine games over .500 and it was reasonable to wonder what the team would do to get better at the trade deadline. Now, the team has three more weeks left in a challenging month of June that will likely determine the tack management takes at the deadline.

“Our June schedule is really tough,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “Now, how we come out of June and how we transition into the month of July and what our placement in the standings is in the month of July will be what really dictates what our trade-deadline strategy is. If we are contending and in a legitimate spot to make a run, then I would expect to address that and make moves. We just have to maintain the proper perspective on that and adjust as our performance suggests we adjust.”