Despite Sunday’s 9-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Park in Dunedin, Fla., it was still a pretty good weekend for the Phillies.

Things started very well Friday with Jake Arrieta, on his 34th birthday, throwing four hitless and scoreless innings in a 9-0 win over the Detroit Tigers. The Phillies followed that up with a 10-2 beating of a mostly anonymous split-squad Boston Red Sox team that included six innings of one-hit baseball from the bullpen.

And then Vince Velasquez took the mound Sunday and could not command his fastball or his secondary pitches in an ugly outing against the Blue Jays.

“That’s where he got in trouble.” manager Joe Girardi said. “He just didn’t have good command of his fastball today. It happens to pitchers, and whenever that happens, a lot of times it’s hard for pitchers to get through games. His secondary stuff he didn’t have great command of, either, so it was a double whammy.”

Velasquez allowed three runs on two hits and three walks in just 2 2/3 innings. Read on for more about the battle for the fifth spot in the Phillies’ starting rotation.

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Phillies manager Joe Girardi grabs the baseball after replacing pitcher Vince Velasquez while catcher Deivy Grullon looks on during the third inning of the Phillies' 9-0 loss to Toronto.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies manager Joe Girardi grabs the baseball after replacing pitcher Vince Velasquez while catcher Deivy Grullon looks on during the third inning of the Phillies' 9-0 loss to Toronto.

Battle for fifth spot in rotation has so far been underwhelming

Velasquez has a 4.70 ERA and has allowed seven hits and five walks in 7 2/3 innings so far this spring. Nick Pivetta has an 8.22 ERA and has allowed 10 hits and four walks in 7 2/3 innings.

These two are supposed to be the leading candidates for the job as the Phillies’ fifth starter, but right now, that distinction might belong to lefty Ranger Suarez, who has a 2.25 ERA in his three spring-training outings. But even Suarez has failed to wow Girardi.

“They’ve all had starts that weren’t so great,” Girardi said. “Ranger lost the plate a little bit [Saturday] in that third inning. It will still continue. Obviously, I think we’ll start meeting a lot more to talk about things. We talk about things to try to iron things out. We have 2 1/2 weeks left, so we have to make a decision pretty quick.”

Maybe the Phillies will look for a fifth starter outside the organization. Unlike in a lot of seasons, the Phillies need a fifth starter right out of the chute because they play eight straight games before getting a day off.

By his own admission, Velasquez did not show well in his audition for the job as the Phillies’ fifth starter Sunday against the Blue Jays.

“It just seemed that today was kind of rushed," Velasquez said. “Things were a little bit more fast-paced. Since the start of spring training, I felt like I controlled the momentum of the game, but today, I was a little more rushed. You’re not going to have your best outing every time, so you have to learn how to make those adjustments.”

Suarez, who pitched well for the Phillies in a relief role last season, threw two scoreless innings Saturday against a watered-down Boston lineup, but ran into trouble in the third inning and allowed two runs before pitching out of a jam. He has allowed 10 hits in eight innings, but he has walked only one batter.

It would be a huge surprise if Suarez won the battle for the fifth spot.

The rundown

Once an everyday player, Neil Walker knows any future he has in the big leagues is as a bench player. He’s accepted that realization, but is not ready to accept a spot on a triple-A roster, which is why he has a March 19 out clause in his minor-league deal with the Phillies.

Scott Lauber identified Jake Arrieta, Rhys Hoskins and Seranthony Dominguez as the three players who could dictate the fortunes of the 2020 Phillies. Unsurprisingly, all three are trying to bounce back from difficult seasons a year ago.

On cue, Dominguez delivered his second straight scoreless inning Sunday against Toronto, and Girardi believes the electric reliever will be ready for the start of the season after missing the final four months last year.

Manny Trillo, the slick-fielding second baseman for the Phillies’ 1980 World Series-winning team, will be the team’s 2020 Wall of Fame inductee during an Aug. 8 pregame ceremony. The Phillies will also celebrate the 40-year anniversary of their first world-championship team that weekend.

The Phillies have temporarily stopped signing autographs at spring training as a response to the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, they are signing baseballs and cards to be distributed to fans.

Logan Forsythe, a member of the 2017 Dodgers team that lost to the now-disgraced World Series-champion Houston Astros, is trying to make the Phillies roster as an extra man. He also weighed in on the Dodgers’ loss to the Astros.

The Phillies’ 9-0 loss to Toronto at newly renovated TD Park in Dunedin, Fla. was not pretty Sunday, but Yong Kim’s photography, as usual, was just beautiful.

Important dates

Today: Aaron Nola faces the Yankees at Spectrum Field, 1:05 p.m.

Tomorrow: Zack Wheeler pitches against Minnesota at Spectrum Field, 1:05 p.m.

March 23: Phils end spring training with game against Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.

March 26: Season opener vs. Marlins in Miami, 4:10 p.m.

April 2: Home opener at Citizens Bank Park vs. Milwaukee, 3:05 p.m.

John Kruk was diagnosed with testicular cancer on this date 26 years ago.
John Kruk was diagnosed with testicular cancer on this date 26 years ago.

Stat of the day

On this date in 1994, it was revealed that first baseman John Kruk had testicular cancer. He had initially thought the discomfort in his groin area was caused by an errant pickoff throw by Mitch Williams the season before, and that eventually led to his diagnosis.

"Mitch saved my life. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? " Kruk said at the time.

A month after surgery, Kruk returned for the Phillies’ home opener against Colorado and had three hits, including an RBI double.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: Haven’t heard much about Hoskins. His new swing is not producing many hits. A silent Spring. Why will he continue batting 4th when he is still not consistent? — Vince, via email

Answer: Not that it means much, but Hoskins is actually having a fine spring. He will carry a .286 average with four doubles and a home run into today’s game against the New York Yankees. He has struck out 10 times in 25 plate appearances, but he has also walked four times and has a .400 on-base percentage.

He is going to strike out a lot, but as long as he gets his walks and extra-base hits, the Phillies will be fine with that. I also assure you Girardi will not continue to hit Hoskins fourth if he struggles the way he did in the second half last season.