ATLANTA -- It had been a long time since the Phillies boarded a flight back to Philadelphia following a successful road trip.
In fact, it had been nearly 22 months.
"You go out on the road and you go 4-2, you feel good coming home," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said following Wednesday night's 7-3 loss to the Braves at SunTrust Park. "That's the biggest positive from this. We're going to go home stronger than when we left on this road trip. It's not an easy thing to do in baseball. I'm proud of our guys for doing that."
The Phillies enjoyed their first winning road trip since June 2016, when they went 5-4 through Minnesota, San Francisco and Arizona. They went 4-2 through Tampa Bay and Atlanta in the past week in part because they enjoyed solid starting pitching. Phillies starters posted a 3.15 ERA on the trip, including two quality starts from Vince Velasquez.
Velasquez allowed three runs in six innings Wednesday, striking out seven and walking one. He had the team's first RBI, on a fifth-inning, line-drive single up the middle. Velasquez made two mistakes Wednesday: First, he walked Preston Tucker to start the fifth. Second, he allowed a three-run home run to Ryan Flaherty, who continues to torment the Phillies after they released him in Spring Training.
Velasquez's recent performances are encouraging. He has pitched six or more innings in three consecutive starts for the first time since a five-start streak in July 2016.
His ability to pitch deep in games had been a big question entering the season.
"I think it's just the mindset that you have to have," Velasquez said. "I changed my approach and am just attacking hitters. That was one of the biggest things, going after guys and attacking the zone and utilizing all of my pitches. My secondary pitches were working pretty well and putting guys away with them. I got four punches with the slider and you don't see that very often. It's a different mindset, a different plan of attack."
The Phillies trailed 4-2 in the eighth when left-hander Hoby Milner entered the game. He hit Freddie Freeman with a pitch and allowed a single to Nick Markakis to put runners at the corners with one out. In previous games, Kapler might have called for a right-hander to face Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki, but he stuck with Milner, who opened the inning with a 1.034 OPS against righties in his career.
Suzuki singled to score a run and two more scored before the inning was through, turning a two-run deficit turned into a five-run deficit.
So why wasn't Kapler more aggressive with his bullpen there? Kapler said afterward he believed Milner could maneuver his way through the inning. But there were other motivations, too.
"At that point it was time to look, in part, to save our bullpen," he said.
If the Phillies somehow had held the Braves in check they would have entered the ninth down just two runs and able put a little more pressure on the Braves' pitching staff. Maybe they could have come back and returned home with a 5-1 road trip.
"It's a pretty good road trip," Rhys Hoskins said. "Yeah, obviously we'd like to win the last game to win the series, but I think that kind of gets lost. 4-2 on a road trip, if we can go 4-2 or even .500 on the road I think we're going to be in a pretty good spot."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Phillies had scoring opportunities late but could not cash in. They had runners at the corners with one out in the sixth, but Hoskins struck out swinging and Nick Williams grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning. Philadelphia had runners at the corners with no outs in the seventh, but pinch-hitter Carlos Santana grounded into a double play and J.P. Crawford struck out swinging to end the inning. The Phillies went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera went 1-for-4. He has reached base safely in 19 consecutive games, dating back to Sept. 29. It is the fourth-longest active streak in the big leagues behind Minnesota's James Dozier (30), Colorado's Charlie Blackmon (23) and Arizona's David Peralta (23).
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Scott Kingery crushed a ball to center field in the top of the first inning, but Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte made a fantastic leaping catch at the wall to rob him of his third home run. The ball left Kingery's bat at 105.4 mph. It had a hit probability of 84 percent, according to Statcast™.
HE SAID IT
"Certainly this is a positive outing for Vinny. Even after the rough [fifth] inning, he came back out and he battled. He grinded. That's what pitchers who pitch deep into games do. They don't let one big inning derail them. Vinny is demonstrating why we can trust him deep into games going forward." -- Kapler
The Phillies open a 10-game homestand at 7:05 p.m. ET Thursday against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies right-hander Jacob Arrieta (0-1, 3.38 ERA) faces Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon (2-0, 0.89 ERA) in the series opener. It will be Arrieta's third start. He has allowed four earned runs in 10 2/3 innings. He has walked four and struck out six.