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Velasquez's strong start gets no backing

June 3, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO -- Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez looked nearly unhittable at times Saturday night at AT&T Park.But nearly unhittable has not been good enough lately for the Phillies. They needed Velasquez to be perfect. He allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings in a 2-0 loss to the Giants. The

SAN FRANCISCO -- Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez looked nearly unhittable at times Saturday night at AT&T Park.
But nearly unhittable has not been good enough lately for the Phillies. They needed Velasquez to be perfect. He allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings in a 2-0 loss to the Giants. The Phillies have suffered consecutive shutouts for the first time since July 8-9, 2015, when Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke dominated them at Dodger Stadium. Giants pitchers Chris Stratton and Andrew Suarez handed the Phillies their latest setbacks.
"You'd be amazed by what we could possibly do tomorrow," Velasquez said, expressing hope for a breakout in Sunday's series finale.
Velasquez allowed five hits, one walk and struck out nine. He has a 2.14 ERA in his last six starts, striking out 45 and walking 13 in 33 2/3 innings.

But the Phillies are just 3-3 in those starts as the offense struggles. Suarez had not allowed fewer than four runs in each of his last four starts before he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Phillies. He had an 8.05 ERA (17 earned runs in 19 innings) in that stretch.
The Phillies put 19 balls in play against Suarez. Those balls had an average exit velocity of 80.9 mph, making it the Phillies' second-lowest mark against a starter this season. They averaged just 73.6 mph against the Dodgers' Brock Stewart on Monday.
"I think we're pressing a little bit," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "I think we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to get the big hit. We're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to drive the baseball. Sometimes it's happening, sometimes it's not. It's a little bit less patient right now. I don't think it's a lack of talent. I believe strongly in the guys in the lineup tonight. I believe strongly in the guys in that room to score a bunch of runs. And I believe in our hitting leader, John Mallee, to lead them in the right direction. So everything is in place. It's more just we're going through a tough stretch. We have to weather this storm."

The Phillies averaged 4.7 runs per game in 41 games through May 17. They had a high strikeout rate (25.1 percent), but also a high walk rate (10.9 percent). They ranked seventh in baseball in average exit velocity (88.9 mph). But in a 6-9 stretch since May 18, the Phillies have averaged 2.9 runs per game. They have struck out more (27.6 percent) and walked less (7.3 percent). They entered Saturday last in baseball in average exit velocity (85.4 mph) in that stretch.
"We're not being as patient as we were before and that's really a key," Odubel Herrera said through the team's interpreter. "You know if you look for your pitches and you're patient, things are going to work, but we're too desperate and we're trying to look for something too early."
It made the Giants' first run in the sixth inning an insurmountable deficit. Joe Panik stood on third base with one out when Andrew McCutchen hit a ground ball to shortstop Scott Kingery. The Phillies had the infield in and shifted perfectly. They got exactly what they wanted, but Kingery's throw arrived too high.
"On that play it's do or die," Kingery said. "You don't really have time to regrip or kind of aim. It's just kind of catch it and get rid of it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, the throw was a little bit high, but in that situation I had to get rid of it as quick as possible."
The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth inning, thanks to an infield single from Carlos Santana (exit velocity 63.7 mph) and a bloop single from Maikel Franco (66.2 mph). Nick Williams hit into a fielder's choice to put runners at the corners with one out. But Jorge Alfaro struck out swinging on a 0-2 curveball that hit home plate and Velasquez struck out looking to end the inning.
"Obviously, at the end of the day, you have to score runs to win baseball games," Kapler said. "We weren't able to do that tonight."

Herrera led the National League in hitting at one point, but he has hit just .160 with a .412 OPS since May 19. He has just one walk and 12 strikeouts.
"I don't really know what it is," Herrera said. "One thing I can tell you is I've been putting in the work in the cage. Maybe it's something mental, maybe it's bad luck."
Giants right fielder McCutchen robbed Cesar Hernandez of a near-certain triple and stranded Alfaro on third base in the third inning when he made a fantastic running catch in deep right-center field. Hernandez barreled the ball at 101 mph, forcing McCutchen to cover 98 feet in 5.3 seconds to make the catch. Statcast™ rated the catch probability at 19 percent, making it a five-star catch.
"Man, I thought the ball was absolutely murdered," Kapler said. "That was a tremendous play. I mean, great break, full speed, what looked to be a perfect route, never broke stride. Good job by him by making that play. Cesar leaned on that ball. He absolutely leaned on it. It was disappointing for the dugout. But a really good play by the other guy."

"I think it's extending faith. I think it's encouragement at the right times. It's positive reinforcement when something is very well done. And it's pointing out something that may not be so well done. It's a combination of supporting and raising the bar like we've said since the beginning of Spring Training." -- Kapler, on what he can do to get the offense on track
The Phillies challenged the play at the plate in the sixth inning, but replay did not definitively show that Alfaro tagged Panik before he touched home plate. Officials ruled the play would stand as called.
"He made the perfect slide," Kingery said. "A lot of guys might go in with the hand or something. That's where you get tagged out, but he went cleats down and got the tip of the plate."

Phillies right-hander Jacob Arrieta (5-2, 2.16 ERA) faces Giants right-hander Dereck Rodriguez (0-0, 2.70 ERA) in Sunday's series finale at AT&T Park. Arrieta has been on a roll, posting a 0.90 ERA in five starts in May. He did not allow a run in three of those starts.

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