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Velasquez scuffles, Phils lose series vs. Braves

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Vince Velasquez finished April like he finished March. The Phillies can say pretty much the same thing.

That is not a good thing for either the individual or the team. Velasquez allowed six runs in four innings Sunday afternoon in a 10-1 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. He threw a first-pitch fastball to the first batter he faced in the first inning and it was hammered for a home run. He allowed five runs in the third inning as the Braves built a six-run lead.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Vince Velasquez finished April like he finished March. The Phillies can say pretty much the same thing.

That is not a good thing for either the individual or the team. Velasquez allowed six runs in four innings Sunday afternoon in a 10-1 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. He threw a first-pitch fastball to the first batter he faced in the first inning and it was hammered for a home run. He allowed five runs in the third inning as the Braves built a six-run lead.

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He left the ballpark 1-4 with a 5.70 ERA. The Phillies left the ballpark 3-6 against the Braves, who took two of three from them to open the season.

"I think very directly they have just played better than us in the games that we have played them," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "Not much more to say about it. They have gotten big hits, they have pitched a little better and they have been the better teams in the games we have played against them."

The nine games against Atlanta have been lopsided. The Braves have outscored the Phillies, 54-30.

The Phillies have outscored everybody else they have played, 96-55.

"We feel we match up very well against the Braves," Kapler insisted. "We have a lot of confidence every time we play them for sure."

But Velasquez's start completed a disappointing week against the D-backs and Braves. The Phillies went 2-4 against the team with the best record in the National League and the division rival whose lineup looks primed to give the Phillies fits for years.

Velasquez allowed seven runs in 2 2/3 innings in his March 31 start against the Braves. He posted a 2.41 ERA in his next three starts. He struck out 20 and walked three in that stretch. He pitched at least six innings each time.

Some wondered if he could be turning a corner. But he has allowed 10 runs in 8 2/3 innings in two starts since.

"You're going to have one of these days and you shouldn't beat yourself up because it's just going to add up," Velasquez said. "I'll look back at some film and reflect back and go back to the actual first outings and maybe even reflect back to a couple years ago and how I was successful in a couple of games. This is the process of getting better and you utilize stuff like this to better you."

Velasquez's four-seam fastball averaged only 92.9 mph Sunday after averaging 94.3 mph in his first five starts. He got only two swings and misses on the pitch, tied for the fewest in a start in his career (minimum 40 pitches).

Video: ATL@PHI: Albies blasts a leadoff homer on first pitch

"I'm not sure," Kapler said about Velasquez's drop in velocity. "He attacked. We asked him to go out there and attack. He did attack with all of his pitches. He just didn't have his best stuff."

The Phillies believe they have not showed their best against the Braves, and it is not a matter of Atlanta simply being a better, more talented team. The Phillies get their next test against them May 21-23.

"It's baseball," Maikel Franco said. "You have to understand that when everybody gets hot we get hot. Right now, we're just fighting. We're doing everything we can do. We'll just trying to keep it going and do everything we can do as a team."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Phillies' offense is struggling, hitting .206 and averaging 3.0 runs per game in the past six games, but Aaron Altherr went 3-for-4 with one double. He is hitting .385 (10-for-26) with a 1.121 OPS in his last eight games.

"I'm really, really excited about his at-bats," Kapler said. "They're going very, very well."

Video: ATL@PHI: Franco reaches on an error, drives in a run

SOUND SMART
Odubel Herrera walked in the first inning to reach base safely in 29 consecutive games. It's the longest active streak in baseball. It also is the longest streak by a Phillies player since Cesar Hernandez had a 29-game streak from Aug. 24 to Sept. 24, 2017.

Video: ATL@PHI: Herrera hustles to make a nice grab

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Phillies selected left-hander Jesse Biddle in the first round (27th overall pick) of the 2010 MLB Draft. He never panned out with the Phillies, but the Philadelphia native made his MLB debut earlier this month with the Braves. Biddle finally pitched in his hometown ballpark Sunday, pitching two scoreless innings. But he really capped the afternoon when he doubled into the left-field corner to score a run in the ninth.

"My dad has been telling me I'm a big league hitter for a long time now, ever since I was in Little League," Biddle said. "So I'm sure he feels like he's been proven right. I closed my eyes. Luis Garcia is a good friend of mine, he has a disgusting sinker. I got very lucky."

Video: ATL@PHI: Biddle fans Valentin to seal the Braves' win

HE SAID IT
"Hutch was ready to roll … You always like to give guys a few extra pitches. It's not an unusual move, is it? From my perspective, sometimes you walk out slow and sometimes you walk out fast. Generally you walk out slow when you want to give your guys a couple extra pitches." -- Kapler, on his very slow walk to the mound in the top of the ninth inning

Following a mound visit from Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp, Kapler then walked to the mound to summon Drew Hutchison from the bullpen. Hutchison threw a couple extra pitches before he finally left the bullpen.

ROSTER MOVE
The Phillies optioned right-hander Jake Thompson to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He allowed three runs in 3 2/3 innings Sunday. The Phillies will make a corresponding move Monday. It is expected to be right-hander Zach Eflin, who will start Tuesday in Miami.

UP NEXT
Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta (3-0, 1.82 ERA) opens a three-game series Monday at 7:10 p.m. ET against the Marlins in Miami. Arrieta has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his first four starts. He has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last three. He faces Marlins right-hander Dan Straily.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Vince Velasquez