ST. PETERSBURG -- For the eighth time in the last nine ballgames, a member of the Philadelphia rotation allowed less than two runs in his trip to the mound.
Righty Vince Velasquez was the latest Phillies pitcher to turn in a dominant performance, allowing just one earned run in 6 2/3 innings, and Jorge Alfaro ripped a go-ahead RBI single in the ninth to give the Phillies a 2-1 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Friday.
"I was just trying to be a good teammate and put the ball in play," Alfaro said
Velasquez struck out a season-high seven and walked just one but did not factor in the decision.
Velasquez's outing was also the sixth time in the last nine games that a Philly starter has allowed four hits or less. The Phillies rotation has a combined 2.70 ERA (16 ER in 53 2/3 IP) during that span.
"I think we are learning from each other as a pitching staff and I think that together as a team that is what makes us strong and I think that will last us and carry on through to the end of the season," Velasquez said.
Velasquez's only run allowed in the game came in the second inning after C.J. Cron sneaked a single through the left side of the infield and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Mallex Smith sliced a single down the left-field line to bring Cron in for the first run of the game.
Velasquez cruised until the seventh when he allowed a single up the middle by Matt Duffy. Velasquez got the next batter, Smith, to ground out for the second out, but was pulled for reliever Luis Garcia, who got Wilson Ramos to pop out to end the threat.
"This was a big step forward for Vinny," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "To be efficient, to get stronger as the game went on. ... His velocity maintained all the way through, location got better and he used breaking balls for strikes. Excellent performance by him."
For as dominant as Velasquez was on the mound, the Philadelphia offense struggled. Philly didn't get its first hit off Rays starter Jake Faria until the top of the fifth when Nick Williams singled to right. Williams was promptly picked off by Ramos on the next batter.
Philadelphia finally got on the board in the sixth. With one out in the top of the frame, J.P. Crawford doubled off the wall in right-center. Faria walked the next batter, Cesar Hernandez, which ended the pitcher's night. Facing Rays reliever Jose Alvarado, the next batter, Carlos Santana, blooped a broken-bat liner to right field that took an awkward bounce up and over the head of Carlos Gomez and brought Crawford around to score and tie the game up at one.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Got 'em: With Cron aboard for the Rays in the fourth, Duffy popped a weak fly ball down the right-field line. A sprinting Aaron Altherr bobbled the ball off the heel of his glove for an error but was able to recover quickly and gun down Duffy at second after he overslid the bag. Duffy was called out seconds before Cron could cross home plate, negating the run and kept the Rays' lead at 1-0.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
After hitting the go-ahead RBI in the top of the ninth, Alfaro made a spectacular play on defense to start the bottom of the inning. With his team hanging onto a one-run lead, Alfaro leaned over into the photographers' pit of the visitor's dugout on a foul pop off the bat of Cron for a quick first out. "We were all talking about how difficult a play that is," Kapler said. "You don't know if the ball is going to come back, and either way you've got to get over to the rail as quickly as possible and sacrifice your body for your club."
HE SAID IT
"We still want to give Rhys a lot of reps in left field. He's a developing player in the outfield, and a developing player period. Development doesn't end at the Major League level, so we want to make sure he sees more balls off the bat out there" -- Kapler.
Veteran right-hander Jacob Arrieta will make his second start of the season when the Phillies take on the Rays at Tropicana Field at 6:10 p.m. ET. Arrieta (0-0, 4.50 ERA) will look to stretch things out a little bit after gong just four innings in his season debut. He did manage to strike out five while walking two in that start. Arrieta, who will face off against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer (1-0, 5.94), has struggled against the Rays in his career, going 3-3 with a 5.35 ERA in eight career starts vs. Tampa.
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