NEW YORK -- Vince Velasquez is the Phillies' fifth starter. The way he took charge Saturday night, the 23-year-old right-hander may as well have been their ace.Velasquez breathed life into the Phillies with six shutout innings and nine strikeouts, exciting them with how he pitched and how he looked in
NEW YORK -- Vince Velasquez is the Phillies' fifth starter. The way he took charge Saturday night, the 23-year-old right-hander may as well have been their ace.
Velasquez breathed life into the Phillies with six shutout innings and nine strikeouts, exciting them with how he pitched and how he looked in a 1-0 victory over the Mets -- their first win of the season after four straight losses.
"He exudes energy," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "Sometimes you want to slow him down, but it's good to have that type of rhythm when you're throwing strikes."
Velasquez got into a rhythm after a 26-pitch first inning, and he still seemed to be in it when the game ended. He said he took the mound Saturday intending to make a statement, and intending to keep the Phillies from starting 0-5 for the first time since 1934.
"Just go out and dominate," he said. "We were 0-4. If we go 0-5, we might hold our heads down low. This is something that could give us a boost. Who knows? We may go on a winning streak.
"[I wanted to] show we're capable of winning. We're not losers."
Velasquez needed help from Ryan Howard, whose fifth-inning home run provided the game's only run. He needed nine outs from a bullpen that began the night with the worst relief ERA in the Major Leagues.
But in a season in which the Phillies are committed to rebuilding and on a night when they needed something good to happen, there was no question Velasquez was the biggest Phillies story.
"It was fun to watch," Mackanin said. "He's going to be a good one. Coachable, great kid, a true competitor. He's going to hit, too."
"You could see in Spring Training," Howard said. "It's almost like he pitches with a chip on his shoulder."
Saturday, with the game-time temperature at 41 degrees, Velasquez was pitching with heat packs in his pockets. Asked about the first-inning control issues, he blamed the weather.
"It was cold, freezing," he said.
So why no long sleeves?
"I've always stuck with the three-quarters," he said. "That's what jackets are for. That's what hand warmers are for. I had them in my back pocket."
The heat from the hand warmers helped Velasquez bring heat to the mound, with a fastball that reached 95 mph. He relied on the fastball heavily for the strikeouts, six of which came in the third and fourth innings. Velasquez never allowed a Mets runner past second, striking out Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda with a runner on second in the third inning, and Cespedes with two outs and a runner at second in the fifth.
"I don't think since I've been here we've really had a true power pitcher," Mackanin said. "It's good to see a guy with that kind of arm and that kind of a demeanor pitch."
It was especially great for the Phillies to see it after the four straight losses, even if the starting rotation hadn't been the biggest culprit in the losing streak.
"It was a great day today," Velasquez said.
The Phillies would agree.
Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com.