April 19, 2017

Vince Velasquez hits wall in sixth, Jay Bruce continues assault on Phils in Mets victory

NEW YORK – This was exactly what Vince Velasquez needed.

Finally, in his third start of the season, his pitch count was manageable after the first three innings, opening a window for him to get deeper into a game. After skating out of trouble in then first inning, he began getting quick outs and ground ball outs, too.

After a two-out walk in the second inning, Velasquez retired 10 straight batters. This was the tonic the emotional and borderline combustible 24-year-old right-hander needed after appearing to be going through a crisis of confidence just six days earlier.

Pete Mackanin, pitching coach Bob McClure, and everyone else in the Phillies clubhouse was aware of it and working with Velasquez.

“There is talk going on daily,” Mackanin said before Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets at Citi Field. “McClure talks to him very often about not only mechanics, pitch selection, approach, demeanor on the mound, knowing game situations, pitching according to the scoreboard.

“Little things like if the pitch gets away from you, don't let it show that the pitch got away from you, make it appear that you did it intentionally. Let's say you throw a pitch up and in on a hitter, don't say, 'Hey sorry,' say, 'I meant to do that,' that type of thing, everything that you can think of we try to get across to him as far as the approach.”

The groove that Velasquez lost touch with grew stronger with each passing inning in Flushing. He carried a one-hit shutout into the first sixth inning of his young 2017 season and he gave himself a little support, and showed off some swag, too, with a run-scoring single in the top half of the fifth.

But then the sixth inning happened. Velasquez gave up hits to two of the first three batters he faced in the frame, a walk to a fourth, and a three-run home run to Phillies-killer Jay Bruce.

Bruce homered again two innings later, after Vinny Velo was long gone, and a game that looked like it would help steer Velasquez in the right direction instead ended like many a Phils-Mets game in the last three seasons: the Mets won. Bruce’s two home runs in the Mets 5-4 victory gave him six on the season, and four in five games against the Phillies in the last nine days.

"Bruce is just a mistake hitter," said Velasquez, who watched the left-handed slugger rip a first-pitch changeup for his first home run and then take Edubray Ramos deep on a two-run shot in the eighth on a fastball over the heart of the plate.

"You make one mistake," Velasquez continued, "and he can turn it around. I know not to that again. But that could have been eliminated if I could have got out (Asdrubal) Cabrera or didn’t walk Yoenis Cespedes (before that). That's on me."

Velasquez’s final line still showed off a quality start, if you put stock in that stat: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR. It was better than his first two.

But it ended with him walking off the mound with his glove over his face, screaming at himself. A three-run home run erased a 2-0 lead in an instant, and to add insult to the inning, Velasquez also collided with Maikel Franco on the mound and an easy, routine pop-up dropped on the infield grass.

But given how his first two starts went – nine runs in nine innings, with pitch counts reaching the century mark as he inched close to five innings – how did he grade his start on the whole?

"I was kind of locked in better than I did in my two prior starts," Velasquez said. "Coming right out of the gate I had full control over everything. I felt more relaxed. ... Big adjustment, big adjustment. I’m kind of happy with my performance but, again, (the sixth inning) shouldn’t have happened."

Sometimes it’s easy to forget Velasquez is only 24 and didn’t pass the 200-inning plateau for his career until Wednesday night. Perhaps the young, developing starter made progress in Flushing, but his start did not end on the best of terms.

"It was a good start," Mackanin said. "It goes to show when you change location and speeds you can be successful, and that’s what he did. And then for some reason, he just couldn't locate in that sixth inning. ... But I’m encouraged with what I saw."

***

 • It's been a full week since Maikel Franco's last hit. The Phillies cleanup hitter went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to run his hitless slump to 0-for-21. Franco did drive in a run on a ground out in the fourth inning. On Tuesday, he hit a scalding line drive at Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. But, still, he's slashing .148/.217/.278 in his first 14 games of 2017.

 • After hitting safely in five straight games, Tommy Joseph was also 0-for-Wednesday night. He's slashing .159/.208/.250. The season is only two weeks old and the Phillies will let their regulars keep playing into May, but if you're wondering why the offense has failed to score more than 4 runs in 11 of their 14 games, you don't have to look beyond the corner infielders' struggles at the plate. 

 • The aforementioned dropped pop-up in the infield (between Franco and Velasquez) didn't affect the final score, but just like Freddy Galvis's base running gaffe a night earlier, it wasn't something that sat well with the team after the game. Fundamentals are, well, fundamental. So what happened?

  Mackanin: "That's a tough one. That was right over the top of the mound. Mikey should have taken it. It wasn't that high. If it was higher, I think Vinny would have directed traffic and looked around for somebody to take it. It didn't hurt us. But you don't like to see that."

 Velasquez: "A crowd like that going ecstatic after a home run, gets loud. I couldn't hear Franco at the time, couldn't hear him coming in. I'm trying to get that last out, settle underneath it, unfortunately, I didn't hear him. We kind of collided. That's what we practice all spring training. I'm aware I have my guys on the side. I need to get out of there. If I don't hear anything I'm trying to get the last out. I've got to get an out. So again we learn. We learn. It's a learning experience every day."

 • And, finally, a minor league note



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