Vince Velasquez said the index finger on his right hand felt numb Thursday afternoon, a few hours before he was scheduled to start a 6-0 Phillies loss to the Marlins. Last week, it was his middle finger that went numb, but a few warmup throws alleviated that discomfort before another strong start.
But that failed to work again on Thursday night. Velasquez told the Phillies 20 minutes before first pitch that he was unable to play as he returned to the clubhouse to have his index finger examined.
It was not the ideal way to start the series finale against the Marlins, who have troubled the Phillies the last two seasons. And it was not ideal for Velasquez, who started the season tucked in the bullpen before emerging this month as a surprisingly consistent starter.
“I’m not worried about it,” Velasquez said. “I’m not going to lose a finger or anything like that. It’s just, as much as I wanted to throw today and help the team win this series, it was very hard for me to even grip the ball.”
Velasquez had surgery in August 2017 to remove a blood clot that was causing his middle finger to feel numb. The numbness returns sporadically, but the procedure — which Velasquez called “a little bypass” — did the job.
This was the first time he felt the numbness in his index finger. After he was scratched from Thursday’s start, Velasquez threw 10 pitches in the indoor cage for the team’s medical staff and felt fine. But then the numbness returned.
The Phillies shut down Velasquez for the final seven weeks of the 2017 season as they tried to determine why his finger was numb before he had surgery. His next scheduled start is Tuesday in Miami and Velasquez is planning to be there.
“I have full confidence that I will be completely fine for my next outing,” Velasquez said. “... I’m not worried. It’s just a little speed bump. We have great trainers and they’re going to be on top of their stuff. I might even do some homework on myself to figure out what it is that I need to do.”
Phillies manager Joe Girardi seemed a bit more concerned.
“I can’t tell you exactly what it means right now, but it’s something that we’re concerned about,” Girardi said.
The Phillies used five pitchers — David Hale, Matt Moore, Archie Bradley, Brandon Kintzler, and Ranger Suarez — to piece together nine innings of a lopsided loss. They have lost four of their last five games, falling to .500 after dropping their first series of the season with the Marlins, who beat them seven of 10 times last summer.
They had just three hits and four chances with runners in scoring position. Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara struck out nine batters in six innings, dominating a Phillies lineup that looked flat. The Phillies finished with 15 strikeouts and frustration seemed to boil over when Brad Miller was ejected in the ninth after committing the team’s 14th strikeout.
“When you don’t hit, a team always looks flat. That’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “We had three hits and they were pretty spread out. We just never got anything going off him and that’s kind of how it looks.”
The Phillies scored eight runs Tuesday to win the series opener. They combined for one run in the final two games. And now the Red Sox, who sit atop the American League East, come to South Philly for three games.
“The interesting thing is we’ve won a lot of first games in series, but we have not won the series,” Girardi said. “We’ve been really good in the first game, but we need to get better in the second and third games.”
Hale pitched the first three innings and allowed one run before Moore, the pitcher Velasquez replaced in the rotation, and Bradley, the team’s $6 million bullpen addition, combined to allow four runs in less than four innings.
Garrett Cooper’s two-run homer off Moore in the fourth inning nearly cleared the seating area in the second deck in left field. Moore struggled this season as a starter, spent weeks on the COVID-19 injured list after being deemed a close contact to an infected individual, and is now out of place in the bullpen.
Bradley wasn’t helped by his defense, but his velocity was noticeably down. He threw 36 pitches to record five outs and topped out at 93.3 mph. It was Bradley’s second appearance since spending five weeks on the injured list with a strained oblique muscle in his side. He wasn’t sure where his velocity would be when he returned, but the early results are not encouraging. It is nearly two ticks slower than Bradley’s average velocity in 2019.
The Phillies practiced fundamental infield drills in the afternoon, but their defense remained sloppy.
Bryce Harper failed to track down a fly ball that landed just foul in the fourth inning. The batter — Corey Dickerson — walked and scored on Cooper’s homer. In the sixth, Harper dove past a line drive to the corner by Cooper that went for a triple. And Alec Bohm made his fifth error of the season in the seventh when a chopping grounder by Cooper bounced under his glove and into left field.
The Phillies entered Thursday with minus-22 defensive runs saved, the worst mark in the National League.
“We work on defense every day. That’s what you have to do,” Girardi said. “You continue to try to make players better and better. We reviewed some things on defense with some pitchers today. We’ll keep working on it.”
Velasquez entered Thursday night with a 2.84 ERA in five starts since returning to the starting rotation. He said in spring training that he just wanted a chance. He received it when Moore was placed on the injured list and took advantage of it.
He reached the sixth inning in his last three starts and stared down the Blue Jays — one of baseball’s premier lineups — in his last start. And Thursday night was to be another crucial test. This was the most consistency the Phillies had seen from Velasquez in six seasons, but it felt like he still needed to prove that he could be relied on.
And then he walked off the field, into the dugout, and returned to the clubhouse. Instead of using Thursday night to determine if Velasquez’s recent success is sustainable, the Phillies now need to determine why his finger went numb and a lineup went cold.
“It’s very shocking,” Velasquez said. “It’s normally the middle finger, but now it’s the index finger. So now we have some question marks as to what’s the reason and why this is happening? Yesterday, I was playing catch, I did long toss, I did all my pre-work stuff and I got ready for today’s game. Getting here to the ballpark this afternoon when I needed to be, it just seemed like it didn’t get any better.”