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Phillies swept by Mets; Velasquez is 'terrible'

The pitcher took a hard look in the mirror. Maikel Franco hit a grand slam.

The right arm of Vince Velasquez is unlike any other at the top levels of the Phillies' pitching arsenal. He throws the hardest fastball and racks up strikeouts at a higher rate than any Phillies pitcher in the last 20 years. Velasquez is intense, fiery, and downright intimidating.

But on Wednesday night in a 5-4 loss to the Mets, Velasquez again showed why he is flawed. He lasted just five innings, threw 100 pitches, and dug his team into a 5-0 hole as the Phillies were swept at Citizens Bank Park. The pitcher has the talent to pitch at the top of a rotation. But it is the little things, he believes, that are getting in his way.

"Terrible," Velasquez said when asked to describe his outing. "The first two starts is not the way to go. I'm not even giving my team a chance to win. This is horrible."

The night's biggest problem, Velasquez said, was "everything." The 24-year-old is his toughest critic. "I'm not even doing my part," he said. "It's just horrible."

The growth of Velasquez will be one of the most intriguing developments of a season that the Phillies hope is laying the groundwork for their return to contention. They should learn over the next six months what type of future they have in Velasquez's right arm. The Phillies have the time and the patience to let Velasquez stick as a starter, where his value is much higher, rather than moving him to the bullpen.

He flashed his promise Wednesday, striking out seven batters and using his developing curveball. Yet the righthander was again plagued by a lack of command, which caused his pitch count on the right-field scoreboard to spin like a slot machine.

Velasquez has walked seven batters in his first nine innings this season. He has racked up 17 strikeouts in that same span. Because of command problems, he has pitched more than six innings in just three of his 26 starts since joining the Phillies.

Pete Mackanin has sat in the dugout for each of them. But the manager still has hope.

"There's no other alternative," Mackanin said. "Hopefully during the course of this season he's going to show improvement. I have a lot of confidence in him making progress during the course of the year. He knows what he has to do. Sometimes he maybe just tries to do too much instead with that powerful fastball just go right after them. I think he'll progress during the course of the season."

The Phillies nearly rallied from the 5-0 deficit as Maikel Franco hit a first-pitch grand slam in the sixth and the bullpen - the worst unit in baseball last season - combined for four shutout innings. But it was not enough.

"We fought until the end," Mackanin said.

Velasquez threw his 100th pitch to end the fifth inning, removed his glove, and walked off the mound. His night had unraveled in that inning and it was finally over. He started the fifth by hitting the leadoff hitter and then loaded the bases with consecutive walks. The Mets tagged him for two more runs and Velasquez's pitch count continued to rise.

Velasquez said he put himself in bad situations. He walked Zack Wheeler in the fifth despite Wheeler's attempt to lay down a sacrifice bunt. He worked two strikes on Michael Conforto in the third before grooving a pitch, which the batter slugged for a homer.

His problems are mostly mental adjustments, Velasquez said, and he believes they require minor fixes. He said he needs to make the game simple and attack hitters with his strengths. And the pitcher's toughest critic is not about to quit.

"You know, there's a turning point somewhere," Velasquez said. "It's coming around. I'm not giving up too quick. But I know the consequences if I don't do my part. I'm fully aware of that. So we'll take this day off tomorrow and get back on the road in Washington and do some damage there."