ST. LOUIS — There’s a great moment in the movie “Bull Durham” in which sage catcher Crash Davis goes to the mound for a stern conversation with flamethrowing hothead “Nuke” LaLoosh. Just as he’s about to walk away, Davis turns back for more.
“Oh, hey, and another thing: You don’t know [anything], Meat. If you wanna make it to the bigs, you’ll listen to me.”
J.T. Realmuto might want to cue up that scene for Vince Velasquez.
Velasquez allowed three home runs here at Busch Stadium on Monday night in a 6-0 Phillies loss to the Cardinals. It was the first time since Aug. 16, 2016, that he got taken deep more than twice in a start. It was also the second consecutive start in which he failed to complete five innings.
But that wasn’t what had the Phillies so frustrated with Velasquez after the game.
Velasquez shook off Realmuto at a few critical points. When the catcher called for an off-speed or breaking pitch, the right-hander preferred to throw his fastball. And two of the Cardinals’ homers — Yadier Molina’s two-run shot in the fourth inning and Paul DeJong’s two-run number in the fifth — came on two-strike heaters that Velasquez probably shouldn’t have thrown.
“I should do a better job trusting J.T. back there,” Velasquez said. “He does a great job studying the guys and knowing what works. It seemed like my secondary pitches were kind of working a lot better than I thought, forcing some ground balls. In that situation, it probably could’ve led to a different outcome.”
Realmuto certainly thought so.
“It definitely affected the game,” Realmuto said. “It’s surprising. For some reason, we couldn’t get on the same page. Obviously it had an effect on the game. It’s never good when a pitcher and catcher can’t get on the same page. We’ve already discussed it. We talked about it right after the game. Hopefully we fixed it for next time.”
There were other reasons why the Phillies lost the opener of the three-game series. They generated only three hits, all singles, against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas. Between Jean Segura’s one-out base hit in the first inning and Cesar Hernandez's leadoff single in the sixth, they went 0-for-13 and didn't have a base runner. It was the best outing of the season so far for Mikolas, who finished sixth in the Cy Young Award voting last year but entered with a 4.73 ERA in seven starts.
But while Mikolas consistently got ahead in counts, Velasquez too often fell behind. Manager Gabe Kapler cited walks early in the game that didn’t come around to score as being detrimental later in the game. And when Velasquez had to make a pitch, he didn’t trust his secondary stuff as much as Realmuto would’ve liked him to.
“That’s my job, to do the thinking. He’s best when he just gets up there and focuses on execution,” Realmuto said. “All of our pitchers, guys work best when they think about executing their pitch and they let [backup catcher Andrew Knapp] and I do the game-calling. We do our preparation. We know what guys’ strengths and weaknesses are and where to go and when to go to it.
“Vinny has a ton of confidence in his fastball. That’s one of the reasons he’s so successful. It’s a really good pitch. I’m sure he learned tonight that there are certain times where you need to go away from it and use something different. But you can’t hate him for loving his fastball. He’s just got to be a little bit more aware about when to use it and when not to use it.”
Molina fouled off four pitches — one slider, two fastballs and a curveball — before launching a 95 mph fastball into the left-field seats to open a 2-0 Cardinals lead. Realmuto thought a sinker off the plate might have been the way to go.
In the fifth inning, Velasquez fell behind Matt Carpenter and gave up a leadoff homer on a fastball in a 3-1 count. Then, after Paul Goldschmidt hit a first-pitch single to center field, DeJong took two strikes, fouled off two fastballs and hit a 96 mph heater out to right field.
“I felt like we had him set up pretty good for a breaking ball there,” Realmuto said. “Looked like he was on the fastball the whole at-bat.”
Said Velasquez: “The problem was putting them away with the secondary pitches. I could’ve utilized it a little bit earlier in the count. It just seemed like they were focused on that fastball. They were locked in, geared in on that pitch. Again, going back to what J.T. does, what he does best, maybe I should do a better job following him.”
Maybe next time.