Sunday, April 10, 2016

Phillies Finally Find A Way To Win

GAME RECAP: Phillies Shutout Mets 1-0

The longest-tenured Phillie joined forces with one of his newest teammates on Friday, helping Philadelphia avoid its first 0-5 start to a season in 82 years. Instead, Ryan Howard homered, Vince Velasquez delivered six shutout innings and nine strikeouts and the Phillies grabbed a 1-0 win over Bartolo Colon and the Mets. Velasquez, whom the Phillies acquired in the seven-player Ken Giles deal with the Astros in December, became the first Phillie to strike out nine-plus batters in his debut since Roy Halladay in 2010. And it wasn't just the strikeouts. Velasquez kept the Mets off-balance all evening, scattering three hits and three walks over six innings. "I think he threw one of his best starts of his career," Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes said through an interpreter. "He was spotting his pitches and everything seemed to work out." Colon, making his first start of the season, was also plenty sharp, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters he faced with six strikeouts. But Howard's homer leading off the fifth was enough to prevent Colon from earning his 219th career win, which would have tied him with Pedro Martinez for the second-most ever by a Dominican-born pitcher. With more offensive support, Colon might have enjoyed a different fate; as it was, the Mets mustered just three hits on a damp, cold night at Citi Field. Cespedes in particular struggled, his 0-for-4 night dropping him to 2-for-16 with seven strikeouts on the season to elicit scattered boos from the crowd. "It's tough to swing a bat on cold nights," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "The pitcher has a distinct advantage. But we haven't swung the bats very good yet, so we're not going to make any excuses about how cold it was. We've got to swing the bats better."

  • When Howard homered off Colon to lead off the fifth inning, it was his 45th career home run against the Mets, tied with Hank Aaron for the fifth-most of any player. The four ahead of him are all big names: Willie Stargell (60), Chipper Jones (49), Mike Schmidt (49) and Willie McCovey (48). "That's some rarefied air," Howard said.
  • After the Phillies took the lead on Howard's home run, Velasquez faced Cespedes with two outs and the tying run on second in the bottom of the fifth. Velasquez got out of the inning by fanning Cespedes for the second time in the game. He added another strikeout in the sixth, and ended the night without allowing a Mets baserunner as far as third base. 
  • Phillies relievers had combined for a Major League-worst 12.66 ERA through the first four games of the season, and could not hold late-inning leads twice in the three-game opening series in Cincinnati. Handed a one-run lead with nine outs to go Saturday, they came up with a different result. Hector Neris, Daniel Stumpf and David Hernandez got through the eighth and ninth without allowing a hit, and newly named closer Jeanmar Gomez pitched the ninth for his second career save -- first since 2014 as a member of the Pirates. 
  • "[I wanted to] show we're capable of winning. We're not losers." -- Velasquez, on winning a game after the 0-4 start.
  • Hellickson, who spent most of his career in the American League with the Rays, has never pitched at Citi Field. He beat the Mets last June in Arizona, and lost to them in June 2012 in a game at Tampa Bay.
  • Harvey is 6-1 in eight career starts against the Phillies, the most wins he has against any opponent. The only loss came last May at Citizens Bank Park, when Cole Hamels beat him, 3-1.
  • Mets third baseman David Wright, who had his first day off of the season Saturday, is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday. The Mets are managing Wright's schedule in an attempt to keep him healthy, as he deals with the spinal stenosis condition that sidelined him for four months last season.

The last time Matt Harvey took the mound at Citi Field, it was the ninth inning of World Series Game 5, and the Mets' season was on the line. The stakes will be just a touch lower Sunday, when Harvey makes his first home start of the season in the rubber game of the Mets' series against the Phillies. Harvey, who lost on Opening Day in Kansas City, will face Jeremy Hellickson, the Phillies' Opening Day starter.


Dominant Debut – Vince Velasquez is the Phillies' fifth starter. The way he took charge Saturday night, the 23-year-old right-hander may as well have been their ace. Velasquez breathed life into the Phillies with six shutout innings and nine strikeouts, exciting them with how he pitched and how he looked in a 1-0 victory over the Mets -- their first win of the season after four straight losses. "He exudes energy," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "Sometimes you want to slow him down, but it's good to have that type of rhythm when you're throwing strikes." Velasquez got into a rhythm after a 26-pitch first inning, and he still seemed to be in it when the game ended. He said he took the mound Saturday intending to make a statement, and intending to keep the Phillies from starting 0-5 for the first time since 1934. "Just go out and dominate," he said. "We were 0-4. If we go 0-5, we might hold our heads down low. This is something that could give us a boost. Who knows? We may go on a winning streak. "[I wanted to] show we're capable of winning. We're not losers." Velasquez needed help from Ryan Howard, whose fifth-inning home run provided the game's only run. He needed nine outs from a bullpen that began the night with the worst relief ERA in the Major Leagues. But in a season in which the Phillies are committed to rebuilding and on a night when they needed something good to happen, there was no question Velasquez was the biggest Phillies story. "It was fun to watch," Mackanin said. "He's going to be a good one. Coachable, great kid, a true competitor. He's going to hit, too." "You could see in Spring Training," Howard said. "It's almost like he pitches with a chip on his shoulder." Saturday, with the game-time temperature at 41 degrees, Velasquez was pitching with heat packs in his pockets. Asked about the first-inning control issues, he blamed the weather. "It was cold, freezing," he said. So why no long sleeves? "I've always stuck with the three-quarters," he said. "That's what jackets are for. That's what hand warmers are for. I had them in my back pocket." The heat from the hand warmers helped Velasquez bring heat to the mound, with a fastball that reached 95 mph. He relied on the fastball heavily for the strikeouts, six of which came in the third and fourth innings. Velasquez never allowed a Mets runner past second, striking out Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda with a runner on second in the third inning, and Cespedes with two outs and a runner at second in the fifth. "I don't think since I've been here we've really had a true power pitcher," Mackanin said. "It's good to see a guy with that kind of arm and that kind of a demeanor pitch." It was especially great for the Phillies to see it after the four straight losses, even if the starting rotation hadn't been the biggest culprit in the losing streak. "It was a great day today," Velasquez said. The Phillies would agree.

Closing The Door – David Hernandez knows it started with him. He was the Phillies reliever who was handed a one-run, eighth-inning lead on Opening Day, the guy who helped turn it into a five-run inning and the first of what became four straight defeats to start the season. "We kind of let it snowball," Hernandez said Saturday night, after the snowball stopped rolling in the Phillies' 1-0 win over the Mets. The bullpen with the highest ERA in baseball (12.66) turned it around, at least for a night. Handed another one-run lead after starter Vince Velasquez's outstanding Phillies debut, the relievers delivered the nine outs that gave the Phillies their first win of the season. "It feels good to finally lock one down," Hernandez said. It wasn't easy. Hector Neris walked pinch-hitter Alejandro De Aza after getting the first two outs of the seventh, and needed left-hander Daniel Stumpf to get Curtis Granderson to get out of the inning. Hernandez pitched a 1-2-3 eighth against the middle of the Mets' lineup, but went to three-ball counts on all three batters. Finally, new closer Jeanmar Gomez finished it off with a six-pitch ninth inning, for his second big league save and first since 2014. "I knew we were going to win -- as soon as [shortstop Freddy Galvis] caught that ball, that last ball," manager Pete Mackanin said. That last ball, the last out of the game, he meant. Mackanin has been frustrated by the early bullpen struggles, but he said Saturday afternoon that he still trusts the relievers he has. "I know we're better than we've pitched," he said. "We'll give it a little time. If not, then we'll make changes." He made the first change a couple of days ago, saying that he would begin using Gomez in the ninth after Dalier Hinojosa couldn't hold a ninth-inning lead in the second game against the Reds. The 28-year-old Gomez has never been a closer in seven Major League seasons, with his only save coming in an extra-inning game with the Pirates. "It goes to show you don't have to throw 96 [mph] to be a closer," Mackanin said. "If you make quality pitches with good stuff, you've got a chance." The Phillies won't consider their bullpen issues solved after one good game, but it was certainly better than the alternative. "I think we were putting too much pressure on ourselves," Hernandez said. "I let the first one slip away, and we kind of let it snowball. Now maybe we can get it going in the other direction." For one night, it did.

Ruf To the Outfield? – The idea of playing Darin Ruf in the outfield gained some steam Saturday, when Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he could make a change within days if his team doesn't start hitting. Ruf has started 80 games in the outfield during his career, but the Phillies didn't plan to play him there this season and he didn't do any work there during Spring Training. He would have taken fly balls Saturday afternoon, but rain kept the teams from doing any pregame work outside. Even so, Mackanin wouldn't rule out starting Ruf in left field as soon as Sunday. "In the next few days, if I don't see improvement," he said. "I'm going to be forced to do it." Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos, the starting corner outfielders, were a combined 3-for-23 as the Phillies lost their first four games. The Phillies scored just two runs in three of the four losses. "At some point, you've got to infuse some offense in there," Mackanin said. "I don't want to take Bourjos or Hunter out of the lineup, but they're not hitting." Ruf's main role coming out of Spring Training was as part of a platoon with Ryan Howard at first base, with Ruf starting against left-handed pitchers. But the Phillies faced only one left-hander in the first four games of the season, and they aren't scheduled to see another one until they face Drew Pomeranz of the Padres next Thursday. The Phillies' lineup got one boost Saturday, when third baseman Maikel Franco returned after missing one game. Franco's left elbow was sore after he was hit by a pitch in the ninth inning Thursday in Cincinnati. Mackanin made Franco his cleanup hitter, moving Howard to fifth, behind Freddy Galvis,Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera. "Cesar likes hitting second," Mackanin explained. "I'm looking at every little thing I can do to make guys comfortable." Mackanin didn't promise any immediate changes in the Phillies' bullpen, even though the team ERA out of the 'pen through four games was 12.66, the worst in the Majors. "It still hasn't been long enough to fully evaluate," he said. "And our Triple-A team has only played two games, so it's hard to say anyone is throwing well there. It's going to take a little time, but we're not going to wait overly long."
This Day In Phils History - Phillies catcher Bill Killefer remained with the team following a ruling by Federal Judge Clarence Sessions. 57 years later saw a different player matter concluded when the Phillies finally completed the trade for Curt Flood by sending Jeff Terpko to Washington. That same day saw Jim Bunning lead the Phillies to victory in the first game at Veteran's Stadium. The same stadium where Paul Revere would ride in to deliver the first ball of the bicentennial season. Some interesting debuts happened on this day as well as not many could have predicted the managerial success Sparky Anderson would have when he made his major league debut with teh Phils in 1959. Few were aware of the Hall of Famer in waiting when Don Money debuted at the hot corner in 1968. However, too few believed Sil Campusano would be a bust shortly after his Phillies debut in 1990. 

The Phillies are currently 1-4 this season putting them on pace to meet most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 24-17-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

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