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Aaron Altherr dazzles, Phillies hit 3 homers in rout of Cubs

CHICAGO - The Wrigley Field crowd held its collective breath as the line drive flared to left field. Aaron Altherr never wavered. The Phillies' smooth outfielder charged, dove forward, and made a fantastic catch to quiet a Cubs rally in the fourth inning of a 10-2 win.

Altherr's catch - which came with runners on first and second - protected the lead he helped build. He drove in three runs with a pair of doubles as the Phillies raced out to a 7-0 lead after the second inning. Altherr finished 2 for 4 with three RBIs. He was one of four Phillies batters to have more than one hit. The game's start was delayed 1 hour, 25 minutes by rain.

Altherr began the season as a reserve before being pushed into the starting lineup when Howie Kendrick hit the disabled list. It is going to be hard to move Altherr back to the bench. He is the team's best defensive outfielder and is continuing to show promise at the plate. Altherr is batting .325 with a 0.936 OPS in 40 at-bats.

"He's making it difficult," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I have to try and keep him in the lineup. He's playing well."

The Phillies onslaught helped lessen the sting from their three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium. Tommy Joseph, who is looking to leave his slump in April, started May with a three-run homer in the first. Cesar Hernandez had three hits and scored two runs. He leads all second basemen with 22 runs scored. Michael Saunders and Freddy Galvis both homered to right field in the seventh.

"I wondered how the sweep in LA would affect the team, especially that game on Saturday night," Mackanin said. "It wasn't fun leaving there but coming here and beating the Cubs pretty well is a good sign. That was nice to see."

They spotted Vince Velasquez a seven-run lead, but the pitcher he still had to fight to log five innings and earn a win. He pitched five innings, allowed two hits, walked three, and struck out four. Velasquez was again doomed by a rising pitch count. He threw 98 pitches, 63 of which were strikes.

He needed an astonishing 37 pitches to complete the fourth inning. The righthander has an electric arm but continues to struggle with putting away hitters. He worked an 0-2 count to Javier Baez in the fifth before allowing a homer. It was his fourth homer allowed this season with two strikes.

"He slowed his whole rhythm down. He was working quick for a while and then all of a sudden he slowed it down," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see him just get his sign and pitch and have a better rhythm. For some reason, he changed his rhythm and took too much time between pitches. He was thinking too much."

Earning a win seemed elusive in the fourth when Velasquez walked Kris Bryant and hit Anthony Rizzo. Velasquez was then bailed out by Altherr's diving catch. The play was "awesome," Velasquez said. The pitcher walked the next batter to load the bases with two outs. A mistake here and his night would likely end. Velasquez worked a 2-2 count before blowing the sixth pitch - a 92-mph fastball -  past Wilson Contreras.

"That's one of the situations where you have to bear down," Velasquez said. "You have to really concentrate and get yourself out of the jam. I put myself in it, so I have to get out of it."

Velasquez spun in a circle on the mound and pumped his fist. He escaped the inning and kept his night alive. There is still much work to do, but it was the win that proved most important on Monday.