CHICAGO -- It’s been trial by fire for young Phillies starter Cole Irvin , and after his first two starts, the early returns yielded solid results. But as Vince Velasquez edges closer to returning from the injured list, each start is essential in showing the club that he can stay in the starting rotation.
The success Irvin found in the first two starts of his career wasn’t as visible on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, as the young southpaw got his first taste of adversity in the big leagues.
“The fastball wasn’t locating, the offspeed wasn’t locating,” Irvin said. “When you’re a guy that pitches to contact and can’t locate pitches, that’s not a good sign.”
Unfortunately for Irvin, he paid a seven-run price between two pitches during the Phillies 8-4 loss to the Cubs. The left-hander gave up a three-run home run to Anthony Rizzo and a grand slam to Albert Almora Jr.
Pitching with an early 3-0 lead in the third inning, Irvin started the frame by allowing singles to Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant. His night took a turn after falling behind in the count and leaving him no choice but to come right at him with a 3-0 fastball. Even after throwing three straight pitches out of the zone, Irvin knew Rizzo could be swinging.
“Yeah, it was in my head,” he said. “But we were trying to go fastball middle away there.”
The pitch ended up middle-in and on a warm night with the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field, and Rizzo knew what to do with it sending the 3-0 offering nearly out of the ballpark, if not for hitting the “D” in the Budweiser sign atop the scoreboard in right field to tie the game at 3.
The Phillies left-hander seemed to have settled following the Rizzo homer run, proceeding to set down the next seven Cubs he faced. But he ran into more problems in the bottom of the fifth. Irvin pitched himself into his second major jam of the game, but this time loading the bases for Almora with two outs.
Instead of nibbling like the at-bat to Rizzo, Irvin went right at Almora, who ambushed him on a first-pitch changeup. The Cubs center fielder jumped on it, drilling the pitch to dead center field for his first career grand slam, giving the Cubs a 7-3 lead.
“I thought we had a pretty good game plan for Almora there,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “We were going to deliver changeups similar to what we were throwing earlier in the game. [That] changeup was right in the middle. He’s a good hitter. These guys are good up and down the lineup.”
“We had a great gameplan,” Irvin said. “If we limit the damage there, the grand slam doesn’t happen. I kind of pitched around a couple of guys to get to guys I wanted to, and unfortunately, it didn’t work in my favor. I thought I had the right guy up for that key situation and didn’t even get through five [innings]. So I’m really disappointed.”
The Phillies lefty departed from the game going 4 2/3 innings allowing seven runs on seven hits in the first loss of his career. He struck out six and walked three on the night.
Despite being his first misstep at the Major League level, there’s no way to know how many opportunities Irvin will have to show he can maintain his spot on the staff. Velasquez threw his first bullpen session since going on the injured list before the game and will throw his second in two days. If all goes well, a rehab stint could be in the near future, potentially leaving Irvin with competition for a starting job.
“I think that’s something we want to spend some time thinking about,” Kapler said. “After a loss like this and after we just kinda got punched, the main thing is that we go back, digest and look at what happened in the game; really just look at it with a little distance between what just happened.”