Vince Velasquez’s work had gone viral before. Last June, for example, he took a line drive off his right forearm from Washington’s Adam Eaton, sprinted for the baseball on the third-base side and made a perfect throw to first base with his left/non-throwing hand for the final out of the inning. It was an amazing play as was his throw from left field Friday night to gun down a runner at the plate and his diving catch an inning later to end the top of the 15th inning of the Phillies’ wild game against the Chicago White Sox.
The highlights are nice, but what the Phillies really need from Velasquez over the final two months of the season is quality pitching, something he has delivered in too short of a supply during his first four seasons in Philadelphia. Velasquez did, however, deliver a much-needed gem Monday night in the desert, giving the Phillies seven sharp innings in a 7-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
It was Velasquez’s longest outing of the season and the first time he had covered seven innings in 25 starts dating to July 22 of last season against the San Diego Padres. The Phillies supported him with 13 hits, including a second-inning home run by Scott Kingery.
Thanks to a St. Louis loss to the Dodgers, the Phillies (59-53) moved into a two-way tie at the top of the wildcard standings with the Washington Nationals.
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The biggest news from Monday’s win in Arizona was right fielder Bryce Harper’s decision to change his batting stance.
“That was something that was his decision,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “He wanted to play with the angle of his bat a little bit.”
The decision came after Harper batted .138 (4-for-29) during the team’s recent 4-5 homestand.
“I don’t know. I just felt like doing it,” Harper said. “It just felt good, so I went with it. I did it in my last round of BP and it felt good, so I did it in the game."
Even though Harper had two hits, it’s too soon to declare his experiment a success. One of the two hits was a check-swing single in the seventh inning. Besides, what the Phillies really need from Harper down the stretch is some more power.
Harper’s 19 home runs after 111 games is his lowest total since he had 15 at that stage of his season as a rookie in 2012. A year ago he had 27 home runs after 111 games and two years ago he had 29. That was not supposed to be the scenario this season with Harper hitting in the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.
Harper did just miss a homer to the opposite field when he flied out in the first inning.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins and manager Gabe Kapler had a lengthy conversation about the Phillies’ inconsistent offense before Monday night’s game in Arizona. Scott Lauber writes that they both decided the track records of the team’s best hitters will eventually lead to a collective hot streak during the team’s final 50 games. Seven runs, 13 hits and a victory were a good start.
Corey Dickerson, the last player Phillies general manager Matt Klentak added at the trade deadline, had two hits in his first start for the team Sunday, but Scott Lauber writes in his notebook that the outfielder was back on the bench for the series opener Monday night in Arizona. Kapler is being cautious because Dickerson is still recovering from a groin injury.
Columnist Marcus Hayes admired the athleticism of Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez after watching his brilliant emergency work in left field Friday night. Roman Quinn, who pitched while the pitcher played left field, called Velasquez the second best athlete on the team. Click here to see who Quinn thinks is the best athlete.
Tonight: Jake Arrieta takes on Arizona’s Mike Leake, 9:40 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jason Vargas pitches series finale vs. Arizona’s Zac Gallen, 9:40 p.m.
Thursday: Aaron Nola pitches series opener in San Francisco, 9:45 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies close out four-game series in San Francisco on Sunday Night Baseball, 7:05 p.m.
Aug. 13: Phillies open homestand against Chicago Cubs, 7:05 p.m.
The plan for Maikel Franco coming into the season was to hit him eighth in a loaded lineup, and that is where he hit in 63 of the Phillies’ first 110 games before he was surprisingly optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley Sunday morning. Manager Gabe Kapler said Franco’s power would play in the eight hole and he was not wrong. The Phillies had good power numbers from that spot in the order when compared to the rest of the National League. The team’s 15 home runs ranked fourth in the league and the 53 RBIs were fifth.
Franco’s power garnered the respect of opposing teams as he drew 15 intentional walks from the No. 8 spot, which meant he turned the lineup over every time that happened. His 17 intentional walks overall lead the league. Franco only hit .232 with a .283 on-base percentage from the eight hole and that’s not good enough, but the rest of the Phillies’ eight-hole hitters this season have batted just .206. That said, third base is a spot where you’d like more offensive production and Franco ranked near the bottom in almost every offensive category among qualified hitters at the position.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: My question to you is -- What has really helped Rhys Hoskins lead all of baseball again in pitches taken? Nothing but walks or strikeouts. In my opinion he is too passive a hitter. Time and time again he has taken pitches right down the middle on the first and second pitch and now he is in a defensive mode. It hasn’t changed since he has been here. I would like nothing more for him to succeed because he certainly has the ability. In Saturday’s win he hit a homer on the first pitch and should do it more often and be aggressive. The pitching coach has got to go.
-- Vince M., via email