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July 08, 2016

Velasquez, Joseph lead Phillies to comeback win over Rockies

Four weeks ago in Washington, Tommy Joseph was officially named the Phillies starting first baseman, dethroning former National League MVP and World Series champion Ryan Howard, before a game against the Nationals. The rookie then put up some Friday night highlights at Nationals Park, homering twice in a loss to the Nats.

With seven home runs in his first 21 career games, Joseph had reached seven home runs faster than anyone in club history (since research began in 1913).

“I can’t sit Tommy Joseph,” manager Pete Mackanin said he told Howard prior to the game. Howard, hitting .150 in 52 games at the time, couldn’t say much in response.

But a funny thing (not funny haha) transpired in the month since Joseph won the job: he went on to perform nearly as badly as Howard had in the season’s first two months. Joseph entered Friday with a .160/.179/.284 slash line, two home runs, 21 strikeouts, and two walks in 22 games (84 plate appearances) since that night in Washington exactly four weeks earlier.

On Friday night in Denver, Joseph was out of the Phillies lineup for back-to-back games for just the second time since he was crowned the team’s first baseman. But Mackanin picked a good spot to give the rookie a shot at getting his bat going again.

Mackanin sent Joseph up to pinch hit for starter Vince Velasquez with the Phils trailing by a run and left-hander Jake McGee recently inserted to replace hard-throwing right-hander Jon Gray. Joseph caught a hanging curveball and sent it far into the Colorado night.

Joseph’s three-run home run – a 455-foot blast, his 10th of the season, and the first pinch-hit home run for the Phillies in 2016 – helped the Phillies overcome a two-run deficit in the seventh inning and made a deserving Velasquez a winner in the team’s 5-3 victory over the Rockies.

Joseph’s home run was the longest by a Phillies players this season. The Phillies (41-47) have won nine of their last 11 games and are nearly a month ahead of last year’s pace: they didn’t collect their 41st win in 2015 until August 1.

Joseph will almost surely be in the lineup and at first base on Saturday, when the Phils are matched up against Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson. Howard, who homered on Thursday night at Coors Field, entered Friday hitting .286 (6-for-21) with two home runs, a double, and a .994 OPS in seven games in the last two weeks, but, obviously, that’s a very small sample size and his struggles against left-handed pitching in the last half-decade has been well-documented.

•  Vince Velasquez has won three consecutive starts since returning from a three-week stay on the disabled list with a right biceps strain. Five days after digging into his bag of tricks to make up for a lack of life on his fastball, Velasquez dialed up 95-MPH in the first inning of Friday’s game to dispatch of red-hot Rockies rookie Trevor Story and never looked back.

Velasquez allowed single runs in the third and fifth innings, but went six. That’s a quality start anywhere, and a plus-quality start at Coors Field.

•  Andrew Bailey was activated from the 15-day disabled list before the game. Bailey, who missed two weeks with a left hamstring strain, retired just two of the five batters he faced on Friday in relief of Velasquez. Bailey could be a candidate to be moved before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but his numbers in the last month (7.71 ERA, 13 hits, 14 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 3 home runs in 11 2/3 innings) aren’t conducive to building trade value. Adam Morgan was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday night to make room for Bailey.

•  Peter Bourjos went 1-for-5 with leadoff double in the fourth inning (he was stranded on base) on Friday night. Bourjos’ turnaround at the plate this season may be one of the more remarkable stories in the first half of the baseball season. Bourjos was hitting .192 less than a month ago, on June 11; it was the first lowest average in baseball among players with at least 100 at-bats.

Bourjos has hit .432 (35-81) since June 11. He entered Friday leading the majors (.447) in hitting during that four-week span and only three players had a higher slugging percentage than Bourjos’ .724: Jake Lamb (.919), Josh Donaldson (.826), and Kendrys Morales (.803).

Yes, somehow, Peter Bourjos had a better slugging percentage than Kris Bryant (.691), who has hit 10 home runs in the last four weeks, during that time frame.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21