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Velasquez 'thriving' as pennant race heats up

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies played their 109th game of the season on Friday night at Citizen Bank Park, meaning there is plenty of time for any number of things to happen in their National League East title chase.

But Friday they beat the Marlins, 5-1, because Vince Velasquez continues to dominate hitters. He allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out seven batters in 6 1/3 scoreless innings to maintain the Phillies' half-game lead over the Braves in the NL East.

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies played their 109th game of the season on Friday night at Citizen Bank Park, meaning there is plenty of time for any number of things to happen in their National League East title chase.

But Friday they beat the Marlins, 5-1, because Vince Velasquez continues to dominate hitters. He allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out seven batters in 6 1/3 scoreless innings to maintain the Phillies' half-game lead over the Braves in the NL East.

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Velasquez improved to 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA in eight starts since he allowed 10 runs against the Brewers on June 8. Including that outing, he is 6-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 15 starts since May 5.

"I mean, I think at this point he's proven that he is not just capable but thriving," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.

Video: MIA@PHI: Kapler on his team's energy in 5-1 win

If the regular season ended Friday, wouldn't Velasquez have to be the Phillies' No. 3 starter behind Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta in the postseason? He is pitching that well.

Velasquez felt some postseason vibes before the game. The Phillies celebrated Shane Victorino, who officially retired as a member of the Phillies. The pregame ceremony included Victorino throwing out the first pitch to Ryan Howard. The Phillies played Victorino highlights on Phanavision throughout the game, including his grand slam against CC Sabathia in Game 2 of the 2008 NL Division Series.

Video: MIA@PHI: Victorino on his retirement ceremony, career

"That was pretty exciting," Velasquez said. "The pregame show was fun to watch. The whole excitement and hype going around the stadium generates the momentum that we thrive to have. It drove me to come out on top today and pitch a little better. My whole mentality was to attack hitters. But the fact that we saw fans get on their feet the way they do is a solid inspiration of what we'll be having the next couple weeks, few months. It's something I can't wait for it to happen."

Velasquez threw 85 pitches (66 strikes), making it the best strike rate (77.6 percent) of his career, excluding two starts cut short because of injuries. He retired the first 10 batters he faced and did not allow a hit until Miguel Rojas singled to left field with two outs in the fifth. Velasquez also doubled and scored the game's first run in the third inning.

Video: MIA@PHI: Hoskins plates Velazquez with a single

The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the seventh when Cesar Hernandez walked, advanced to third on Rhys Hoskins' double and scored on a wild pitch. The Phillies added three insurance runs in the eighth inning.

"I thought Vinny did a tremendous job," Kapler said. "He attacked the zone. He attacked the zone early. Obviously, you saw him throw fastball after fastball in that first inning. We had a plan. We came back to the top of the lineup and you saw him change his approach a little bit and he started landing breaking balls for strikes. He was efficient throughout. He was calm. He was poised throughout.

"And, obviously, he was the most athletic guy on the field for most of the game. Running the bases. Great slide. Line drive to right field. Like everything we teach hitters. It was pretty sweet across the board. His performance was excellent."

Video: MIA@PHI: Velasquez foils Bour's attempt to beat shift

And Velasquez is ready for more. There are 53 more regular-season games to play, but he is eager to see what the thick of a pennant race feels like.

"It's fun for all of us," Velasquez said. "We're all excited for what's coming in the near future, the next couple of months. There's nothing but pure fun-ness."

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Phillies won a challenge on a fantastic catch and throw from third baseman Franco in the sixth inning. Marlins speedster Magneuris Sierra hit a ball to Franco's left, and he dove for it before rolling over and throwing from his butt to first base. First-base umpire Sean Barber initially ruled Sierra safe, but the call was overturned when replay showed that Franco's throw reached Santana's glove before Sierra's foot hit the bag. More >

Video: MIA@PHI: Phils win challenge on Franco's wild defense

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Phillies right-hander Victor Arano worked out of a major jam in the seventh. After Brian Anderson doubled against Velasquez to start the inning, J.T. Realmuto grounded out to move him to third. Phillies shortstop Scott Kingery could have thrown out Anderson at third, but third baseman Maikel Franco did not cover the bag in time. Recently acquired left-hander Aaron Loup entered the game, and his Phillies debut did not go well. He hit Justin Bour with his second pitch to put runners at the corners. But Arano replaced Loup, striking out Martin Prado and getting Derek Dietrich to foul out to Carlos Santana to end the inning and preserve the lead. Arano has a 2.18 ERA in 39 appearances this season.

"I think Arano stands out," Kapler said. "He specifically is going through left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters pretty equally right now. He's got a couple different fastballs and a slider that he can throw in and out of the zone at will. Obviously, we've put him in some really high-leverage spots, and I don't think it's been any big secret that he's had some big stones and been pretty spectacular for us."

Video: MIA@PHI: Arano strands runners at the corners in 7th

SOUND SMART
Kapler subbed Roman Quinn into the game in the top of the eighth, replacing Hoskins in left field. It was just the third time this season Kapler removed Hoskins for defensive purposes with a late lead. It previously happened on May 5 and 6 in Washington. Quinn hustled for a double, which scored two in a three-run rally in the eighth. He made an excellent diving catch in left-center field in the ninth.

Video: MIA@PHI: Quinn plates 2 with a double to right-center

"I spoke to Rhys about it," Kapler said. "Like Rhys always is, he's a pro's pro and completely understands how good Roman is out there and on the bases. So we discussed the possibility of him running late in games, and it wasn't just with Rhys. We talked to Carlos [Santana] about it. We talked to Asdrubal [Cabrera] about it. We talked to Maikey [Franco] about it.

"Anywhere we can get Roman Quinn on the bases, we're going to try to do it. When we can get Roman Quinn in the outfield, we're going to try to do it. When we can get him a start, we're going to try to do it because he's got kind of game-changing athleticism, game-changing speed, the ability to do just about anything on the diamond. So we want to see him out there as much as possible."

Video: MIA@PHI: Quinn dives at last second for recover snag

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro caught Rojas stealing second base to end the fifth inning. Statcast™ tracked the throw at 89.5 mph, making it the fifth-hardest throw on a caught stealing this season. Remarkably, Alfaro owns each of the top 10 spots on that list.

Video: MIA@PHI: Alfaro's 89.5-mph throw nabs Rojas stealing

HE SAID IT
"It was great to have both Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard in the dugout before the game. Specifically with Shane, he had some emotion out there on the field, and I think that spilled over on the field for us today. We played with some heart and some energy and some emotion. In part, Shane Victorino set the tone for us tonight." -- Kapler

UP NEXT
Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin (7-3, 3.64 ERA) faces Marlins right-hander Jose Urena (3-10, 4.40 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. ET on Saturday in the third game of a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. Pat Gillick and the late Roy Halladay will be inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame in a pregame ceremony.

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

Philadelphia Phillies, Vince Velasquez