PITTSBURGH -- The Phillies, Joe Girardi said Friday shortly after baseball’s trade deadline passed, needed more from the back of their starting rotation. The deadline brought the rotation Kyle Gibson at the cost of Spencer Howard. That meant Vince Velasquez and Matt Moore still had a place in it.
“Guys still need to step up for us,” Girardi said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. One of the guys is pitching tonight and he’s capable of doing it. We’ve seen it.”
Hours later, Velasquez’s night ended after just two innings in a 7-0 blowout loss to the Pirates. He allowed five runs on six hits and has pitched less than three innings in three of his last four starts. Velasquez’s spot in the rotation was still secure after Friday’s deadline, but it may not be after another rough start.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Girardi said after the game.
The last-place Pirates made five trades leading up to Friday’s deadline, operating in July as sellers as the Phillies were buyers with hopes of catching the first-place Mets. And that’s what made a blowout loss even more frustrating.
“Tonight was a team effort. There wasn’t really much we did well tonight,” Girardi said. “It was about the poorest game that we played all year.”
The Pirates have the lowest run total in the majors and traded away their best hitter but still jumped the Phillies.
Velasquez threw 36 pitches in the first inning, which was elongated by one batter when Bryce Harper’s misplay turned a fly-out into an RBI double. The Pirates tagged Velasquez for two more runs in the second, which was started by him hitting the leadoff hitter.
“He’s not executing pitches like he did before,” Girardi said. “It’s not for lack of effort on his part. He’s just not executing.”
Velasquez has a 5.95 ERA this season (7.63 ERA against all teams except Miami) and an 8.40 ERA in his last 11 starts. Chase Anderson allowed two runs in four innings of relief and slid into Velasquez’s rotation spot. Until Zach Eflin returns from the injured list, the Phillies will need two of Velasquez, Moore, and Anderson to fill the rotation.
“I think there are times where I try to be too fine with some pitches in certain counts and it might be the mental side but I’m also trying to think of the physical side as well,” Velasquez said. “It might be a mixture of mechanics and trying to be too fine. At the same time, I think it’s that old saying of ‘Grip it and rip it, man.’ I think that’s where I have to go back to the drawing board. Trying to just simplify things on my behalf and make it as simple as possible. Poor execution has been the problem in the last starts. It’s hurt me and it’s hurt the team. It’s definitely not something I’m trying to do.”
Girardi often says momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. The Phillies won twice this week on walk-off homers before losing the following day when Moore and Velasquez were blitzed. It’s hard to sustain momentum without reliable starting pitching.
“All I can do is close the book and start all over tomorrow,” Velasquez said. “Every day is a clean slate. The amount of work that I’ve put in day in and day out just doesn’t seem like it’s turning the page for me. It’s not falling into the category that I expect from myself. It’s personally frustrating.”
Bryce Harper misplayed a fly ball in the first inning that brought a run home and appeared to injure himself in the fourth after botching another play.
“I don’t know if the wind tricked him out there,” Girardi said. “Like I said, we didn’t do much right. There were some balls that fell that I think should have been caught. It’s hard to say.”
With two outs in the first, Harper was unable to track a fly ball from Rodolfo Castro. It should have been the third out of the inning, but instead, it bounced past the leaping Harper onto the warning track and over the fence for a run-scoring ground-rule double.
In the fourth, Harper lost a two-out fly from Ke’Bryan Hayes and leaped into the fence. He favored his left side and was visited by Girardi and an athletic trainer, but stayed in the game. That lapse did not cost the Phils a run.
J.T. Realmuto batted leadoff for the first time with the Phillies, becoming just the second Phillies catcher since 1904 to hit atop the lineup. Realmuto went 0-for-4 as the lineup had just one hit and struggled to crack Wil Crowe, who entered with a 5.89 ERA before pitching six shutout innings.
Andrew Knapp was the leadoff man for two games in 2018. Before Knapp, it was Frank Roth in 1904. Roth was arrested on the field that April, after leading off a game in Brooklyn. He hit the second pitch of the game and was promptly handcuffed and walked off the diamond by a New York police captain and four detectives because baseball games were prohibited on Sundays. The Dodgers pitcher and catcher were also arrested before the game resumed.
Hoskins, Segura day to day
The Phillies played without Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura but are hopeful both players can return later this weekend. Joe Girardi does not expect Hoskins (left groin) or Segura (knee) to be placed on the injured list. Brad Miller started for Hoskins and went 0-for-3 while Ronald Torreyes went 0-for-2 with a walk in replacing Segura at second base.
Aaron Nola will start Saturday night against right-hander JT Brubaker. Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy could join the Phillies in the afternoon, meaning Kennedy’s first appearance out of the bullpen could come on Saturday night.