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April 07, 2017

Velasquez runs out of gas early, Phillies comeback comes up short late in loss to Nats

Shortly after Adam Eaton tossed hitting instruments aside and waited for a teammate to retrieve his hat and glove, and before Max Scherzer hopped back on the mound and fired bullets by the home team’s hitters, the public address announcer inside the press box announcer at Citizens Bank Park had something to say to the assembled media.

“The 10 strikeouts for Velasquez… (something something something) .. ."

Sure, it’s impressive when a starting pitcher collects double-digit strikeouts in a major league game. When he does it in just four innings? Nice.

But it felt like the most meaningless nugget someone could drum up from the first half of the first major league game in South Philly in 2017, a game that already felt like it was over for the Phillies.

Wait. That last sentence sounded a little too fatalistic or pessimistic. Even for Philadelphia.

But Max Scherzer was on the mound, armed with a four-run lead against an offense that ranked last in nearly every hitting category a year ago, an offense he’s regularly dominated since joining Washington, and Vince Velasquez, for as talented as his right arm is, was edging oh-so-close to the “E” sign on his engine’s tank while the reigning National League Cy Young winner was just getting going on Friday afternoon.

The Phillies did manage to eventually erase the deficit Velasquez created, but they couldn’t take back the 94 pitches it took him to get through four innings (just four fewer pitches than Scherzer needed to pitch into the seventh), a troubling sign since it was the same, regularly rising pitch count that prevented the 24-year-old from pitching deep into games in his first full season a year ago.

Velasquez put himself in a deficit three batters into Friday’s game and put his team in a spot where they needed to cover more than half of the game with its bullpen. Couple those with the fact that Scherzer was on the mound and it was the perfect recipe for a 7-6 defeat.

The Phillies have lost three straight games since their Opening Day victory in Cincinnati on Monday.

Armed with arguably the most talented arm the Phillies have in their depth of pitching talent in both the major league and Triple-A rotation, Velasquez struck out four straight batters between the first and second innings. The four straight turned into six out of nine.

But the bookends on the first and final strikeouts during that run? A pair of two-run home runs, first from Citizens Bank Park fan Bryce Harper, his second of the season, in the first inning and the second from 2016 NL MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy in the third.

Even when Velasquez bounced back from that, and back-to-back one-out hits in the fourth, with more strikeouts, you didn’t blame a decent chunk of the announced crowd of 45,121 at the 14-year-old ballpark from heading for the exit signs before the game was half over. It was cold (48 degrees at first pitch, at 3:10 p.m.) and windy in South Philly and the game turned unpleasant rather quickly.

To the credit to the hearty smart folks who wore parkas to the park, the Phils mounted a comeback. Immediately after Scherzer came out of the game, Freddy Galvis hit a run-scoring double and Aaron Altherr drilled a two-run home run to turn a game the home team once trailed 7-0 to 7-4.

But the comeback was for entertainment purposes only. The Phillies squandered a rally in the eighth and came up a run short in the ninth, when Galvis tried to further fuel his team back into the game with a two-run home run, his second of the season.

The Phils came up one run short because Jayson Werth also homered on Friday, a three-run shot that proved to be the difference in the game. 

There will probably be quite a few more games like this among the 80 still remaining on the home schedule in 2017.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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