PHILADELPHIA -- Can one start on a Saturday night put more pressure on a front office to make a trade?
Or can it give them second thoughts about being buyers at all?
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski spoke Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park about his team, its needs and Friday’s Trade Deadline. He said they are not looking to sell. Hours later, Vince Velasquez and the bullpen pitched so poorly that utility infielder Ronald Torreyes took the ball for the final 1 2/3 innings in a 15-3 loss to the Braves. It was an admittedly embarrassing loss for a team trying to make a case for reinforcements before the end of next week.
“If we’re going to make the playoffs, we have to play better,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “Whether we add people or don’t add people, we have to play better. That’s the only way it’s going to happen. Everything always starts with the pitcher on the mound that day. We’ve had some rough outings since we’ve come back from the break. You can’t make the playoffs if you continue to do that. This game -- as much as we love offense -- is still about pitching. It’s pitching, pitching and pitching. If you don’t pitch, you don’t have a chance.”
The Phillies (48-49) already knew they needed pitching before Velasquez allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings.
“If you’re going to go on a winning streak, which you need to do at some point to win, that usually means you have good starting pitching going forward,” Dombrowski said before the game. “Velasquez has been a little bit better at times. But I think the key is having the top three guys [Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin] pitch really well. And the four and five guys ... we need to get five innings from those guys to compliment ourselves.”
Velasquez is 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA. He has pitched five or more innings in just half of his 16 starts.
But there are more troubling numbers to consider. Velasquez has a 7.15 ERA this season against every team other than the Marlins, against whom he has pitched 18 scoreless innings. He has a 7.74 ERA in his last 10 starts, too.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to be honest with you, but at the same time, I have to kind of accept it for what it is and move on,” Velasquez said. “On my end, I expect more out of myself just as much as anybody else does. Going back to 53 pitches [on Saturday], I’ve been in that situation where I’ve given up four, five, six runs, but I went a little bit deeper. But at the end of the day, my day is done.”
It is difficult to imagine the Phillies winning in the final two months with Velasquez pitching like this.
“Obviously, we haven’t talked about anything,” Girardi said. “But we need more. We need more from our guys. It’s not from a lack of effort. It’s not from them not doing their work. We just need more.”
The Phillies’ other back-end starter is left-hander Matt Moore. He is 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in 14 appearances (eight starts). He has a 4.56 ERA in his past five starts, but he has pitched five or more innings only three times all year.
The Phillies hope to find rotation help by Friday. Dombrowski believes they have enough prospects to make a deal. The Mets acquired left-hander Rich Hill from the Rays on Friday, but there are other back-end rotation candidates available. The group includes Colorado’s Jon Gray; Minnesota’s Michael Pineda and J.A. Happ; Chicago’s Zach Davies and Pittsburgh’s Tyler Anderson.
The Phillies watched free-agent left-hander Cole Hamels throw in Texas on July 16, but there has been little buzz about him since then, other than players in the Phillies’ clubhouse saying they would welcome him.
“We saw him. We liked him,” Dombrowski said. “He threw the ball well. I think what we have to factor in is, what can we do now knowing that Cole, as much as we like him, might not be ready for 30 to 40 days? Because if you sign him, you’re basically telling him you’re giving him a spot in the rotation. I don’t know right now if we are in the spot where I can 100 percent say that. In five days, six days, will I be able to say that? Perhaps.”
Perhaps Saturday nudged the Phillies closer in that direction.