PHILADELPHIA -- Joe Girardi chose the sixth inning Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park for Vince Velasquez’s 2021 debut.
It made sense. Phillies right-hander Chase Anderson just pitched five innings in an eventual 8-4 loss to the Mets, and Girardi needed to stay away from José Alvarado, Connor Brogdon and Sam Coonrod -- and hopefully Brandon Kintzler, too -- after the past few days. But the Mets also had a one-run lead and Velasquez’s volatile tendencies on the mound could turn a small deficit into a large one within minutes.
Girardi needed to take that chance.
Velasquez struck out Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith -- the Mets’ three, four and five hitters -- on 14 pitches. He looked great, but then he flipped the script like he has so often in the past. He walked four of five batters in the seventh. The runners scored as the Mets turned a one-run lead into a five-run lead, effectively ending any opportunity the Phillies had to become the franchise’s first team in 106 years to start the season 5-0.
Velasquez’s line: 1 1/3 innings, no hits, four runs, four walks and four strikeouts.
The good and the bad packed into eight batters.
“I totally lost it,” Velasquez said about his leadoff walk to Luis Guillorme in the seventh. “It’s just something that ... I need to get off the mound and regroup. Right out of the chute, I pretty much was in that wind-up phase and I felt like I was in total control and once I went into the stretch [in the seventh] … I started aiming and I got behind in the count. I take full blame of the whole situation. This game could have been closer, and I take full responsibility for that. Three, four straight walks are not acceptable at all.”
But it was not totally surprising. Velasquez has pitched inconsistently like this for some time. After an encouraging debut season with the Phillies in 2016, when he went 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 24 starts, he is 19-28 with a 5.07 ERA in 89 appearances.
It is why some people thought the Phillies would not tender Velasquez a contract or trade him in the offseason. But some in the organization still believe. They offered Velasquez a contract and he earned a spot on the Opening Day roster, in part because they think there is something still there and in part because the Phillies lack organizational starting pitching depth.
Girardi defended Velasquez afterward. He made a point to mention that he had not pitched in a competitive situation since March 28 in Clearwater, Fla. He said Velasquez’s performance Tuesday did not end his trust in him, either.
“Your first outing I don’t make a big deal out of,” Girardi said. “I don’t make a big deal out of the first outing after the All-Star break when guys have been off. Vinny threw the ball pretty well in Spring Training and he threw the ball really good for the first inning. But we’re going to need Vinny. We’re going to need all these guys to contribute.”
Velasquez hopes to get another chance in another tight spot sometime soon.
“In this town, in Philadelphia, they want competitors,” Velasquez said. “I’m one of those guys that can compete, but [the walks are] totally unnecessary.
“Joe likes to talk about trust. In any situation, I want to be one of those guys that can establish that trust. But when you’re not put into games it’s very hard to kind of be sharp. Again, this is the first game. … I feel like I’m one of those guys. I could be in that situation. I would like to be in that situation. I’ve told you guys from the get-go, no matter what role it’s going to be, I want to be that guy just to compete and win for you guys. Today was a good first inning, but it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. I should have come in and closed that second inning and at least given our team a better chance to win.”