PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak doesn't want to venture into the starting pitching market. If his team can get more outings like the one Vince Velasquez threw on Sunday night, he might not have to.Velasquez pitched seven shutout innings in the Phillies' 5-0 win over the Padres at
PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak doesn't want to venture into the starting pitching market. If his team can get more outings like the one Vince Velasquez threw on Sunday night, he might not have to.
Velasquez pitched seven shutout innings in the Phillies' 5-0 win over the Padres at Citizens Bank Park to split a doubleheader. The Phillies lost the opener, 10-2. He didn't allow a hit through five innings, and he struck out seven. It was the first time Velasquez completed the seventh inning since July 30, 2017, and the performance gave him a 2.38 ERA over his last six starts. He's held opposing hitters to a .134 batting average and racked up 34 strikeouts over that span.
"Part of the reason he's pitching deep into games, part of the reason he's really healthy this deep into the season, part of the reason we feel confident pushing him in more innings in the second half, is because of the work that he does to prepare himself to get ready to play baseball," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "It's been off-the-charts good."
With an upper-90s fastball, Velasquez's talent has not been questioned, but his career has often been derailed by injuries. He spent extended time on the disabled list in each of his first two seasons with the Phillies.
He's missed just one start this year, showing what health and preparation can do for a pitcher with his stuff. Velasquez is the first Phillies pitcher to have three or more no-hit bids through five innings since Steve Carlton had four in 1979.
"Whether it's eating cereal in the morning or having a solid meal the night before," Velasquez said, "you're pretty much figuring yourself out every day. It's creating that routine that I've actually found, and I'm utilizing every day, before every start."
With that routine, Velasquez said, he's found the mindset that has driven his tempo on the mound -- something he and Kapler pointed to as a source of the turnaround. Velasquez wants to be the one in control.
"Just have that ball and pitch 'til I get the handshake from Kap," Velasquez said. "Being aggressive all the way through, and utilizing those secondary pitches when I need to."
Nights like Sunday, just nine days before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, can help quell the argument that the Phillies' rotation -- which is without a left-handed option and has lacked consistency from Jacob Arrieta and Nick Pivetta -- could benefit from the homecoming of J.A. Happ or Cole Hamels.
The Phillies are in first place in the National League East primarily because the club's starting pitching has exceeded expectations. Aaron Nola is a bonafide ace. Zach Eflin, after starting the season in Triple-A, is 6-1 with a 2.32 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of June.
Velasquez, in his current form, belongs in that group.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Phillies managed just one hit through the first three innings of Game 2. Herrera changed that with one swing in the fourth, when from the batter's box he sent a pitch 385 feet away into the right-field seats for his 17th home run of the season, extending his career high. In the seventh, Hoskins widened the gap with a three-run moonshot to left.
"Getting some insurance runs late in the game kind of deflated [the Padres'] tires a bit with a big hit," Hoskins said. "We needed a win today."
ON THE MOVE
The Phillies optioned Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after the game. Corresponding roster moves will be made Monday, but one spot is expected to be taken by Eflin, who is coming off the disabled list to make the start.
Altherr was expected to compete for the starting job in right field this season. He received most of the at-bats early on while Nick Williams thrived as a pinch-hitter. Entering Sunday, though, Altherr's slash line had dipped to .172/.291/.306. He pinch-hit in Game 1 of the doubleheader and did not appear in Game 2.
Carlos Santana went 1-for-3 with an RBI single in the seventh inning while batting leadoff for the first time with the Phillies. It marked his first start out of the cleanup spot since June 3. Before Sunday, Santana had hit leadoff in just 123 of his 1,213 career games.
"[Santana] profiles well up there," Kapler said. "I don't want to pigeonhole ourselves into any course of action here, but it's possible you see him up there again."
The Dodgers arrive Monday for the first matchup of what could be Chase Utley's final series at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin (7-2, 3.15 ERA) pitches for the first time since missing his last start prior to the All-Star Game because of a blister. The right-hander is 6-0 with a 2.32 ERA in his past seven starts. The Dodgers will counter with Thomas Stripling (8-2, 2.08). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Joe Bloss is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.