PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies wanted a drama-free game.
They almost cruised to a relatively comfortable, relatively low-stress victory over the Marlins on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. Late-inning bullpen antics turned a potential four-run victory into a 4-3 nail-biter. But, hey, after the Phils blew seven saves in their previous six games -- losing five of them -- they will take it.
“The way I look at it, we would have lost that game last week on the road,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We won the game tonight. So that’s the bright spot.”
There were others. Vince Velasquez allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings in his longest start since Aug. 5, 2019. He struck out seven and retired the final 13 batters he faced. Andrew McCutchen continued a hot month with a run-scoring single in the first inning. Rhys Hoskins snapped an 0-for-23 skid with a homer to left-center in the sixth. Odúbel Herrera provided a spark with a pinch-hit double to score an insurance run in the seventh, then later scored on a wild pitch.
But then the bullpen doors opened in the eighth.
“I have confidence in my guys, even though we have a lot of hiccups,” Velasquez said. “I think there’s a lot of light at [the end of] the tunnel.”
The Phillies have not reached the end yet, however. Connor Brogdon walked a couple batters around a pair of strikeouts. José Alvarado then entered and walked another hitter to load the bases. He uncorked a wild pitch that allowed a run to score.
“The big thing is the free baserunners,” Girardi said. “That’s what hurt us the most -- more than base hits -- when you look at some of the games we’ve lost. That’s what has to be taken care of.”
The eighth inning got weirder when first-base umpire Phil Cuzzi approached Alvarado during a mound visit with pitching coach Caleb Cotham. Cuzzi told Alvarado that he needed to wipe rosin off his right arm. It was a hot night at the ballpark. Alvarado is a sweater. So, at one point, he casually covered his arms with the rosin.
But it is against the rules to have rosin on a pitcher's non-throwing arm. Alvarado wiped it off with a towel and got a ground ball to get out of the inning. In the ninth, he allowed a leadoff single to Jesús Aguilar and a two-run home run to Adam Duvall, which cut the Phils' lead to one. Fans booed, but Alvarado retired the next three batters to save it.
The Phillies needed a win after a 2-3 road trip through New York and Cincinnati. But they play well at home. They are 22-14 (.611) in Philadelphia this season, but just 15-26 (.366) on the road.
It makes this six-game homestand against the Marlins and Padres especially important, because the Phils play their final seven games before the All-Star break on the road against the Cubs and Red Sox. Velasquez will make two more starts before the break: Sunday against San Diego and the July 9 series opener against Boston at Fenway Park.
Tuesday represented a nice turnaround for Velasquez. After he posted a 2.30 ERA in his first six starts this season, he had a 7.97 ERA in his last five. He threw 97 pitches on Tuesday, including 68 strikes. Girardi said he thought Velasquez “was probably pretty close to out of gas” at the end of the seventh, which is why the skipper turned to Brogdon.
“That’s the best performance Vinny has had for us all year, and we really needed it,” Girardi said.
“Just filling up the strike zone,” Velasquez said about his night. “I didn’t walk anybody. That’s a big plus.”
The Phils need Velasquez to get rolling again. The organization optioned right-hander Spencer Howard to Triple-A Lehigh Valley before the game, making Velasquez and left-hander Matt Moore the Nos. 4 and 5 starters for the foreseeable future.
Philadelphia's starters have a combined 0.83 ERA over the last six games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the lowest ERA for Phillies starters in a six-game span since they posted a 0.55 ERA from Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2010.
“Obviously, to stay in it, you’ve got to have someone dial up a start every night,” Girardi said. “That’s what you have to do. You have to pitch extremely well. We’re on a little bit of a roll now. Let’s keep it going.”