NEW YORK - Vince Velasquez, ahead 1-2 in the count, threw a curveball Wednesday night. Wilmer Flores pounded it into the ground for a simple out to begin the fifth inning. Jose Reyes slapped a first-pitch change-up to shortstop for the second out. Then Travis d'Arnaud chopped a good fastball, down and away, to second base.
Seven pitches, three outs. That is how Velasquez could taste the sixth inning for the first time this season.
And that is when his outing, in a 5-4 Phillies loss to the Mets, deteriorated.
Jay Bruce crushed a first-pitch change-up for a three-run homer in the sixth. As he walked off the mound, having flashed improvements in six respectable innings, Velasquez screamed into his glove.
"There's a lot of positives out of this," Velasquez said. "Big adjustment. Big adjustment. I'm happy with my performance, but that should have been eliminated. That shouldn't have happened."
Two innings later, Bruce pushed the Mets ahead again with a laser two-run homer against Edubray Ramos. Bruce acknowledged the few thousand in the stands on a brutal night for baseball in Queens with a curtain call. He has crushed four homers in five games against the Phillies this season.
Until Bruce attacked him, Velasquez resembled a different, more efficient version of himself. He did not accrue strikeouts. He adopted a less-predictable approach, one that did not lean so much on his powerful fastball but emphasized his off-speed pitches. He recorded 10 groundouts. For the first five innings, he silenced a Mets lineup that terrorized him last week at Citizens Bank Park.
"He had them off balance," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was changing speeds. Great change-up. Hitting location. It looked like he was cruising. Then that sixth inning, he just lost his location. He just made bad pitches."
This season is still about development for Velasquez, 24 years old and a veteran of 2012/3 innings in the majors. The righthander offered harsh self-criticism following his second start of the season. He promised adjustments, and some were applied Wednesday.
There is still progress to be made.
The Phillies prefer the lessons that are learned in the sixth inning are because it means Velasquez lasted long enough to see it. He threw an economical 84 pitches in those six innings. He could have pitched another, had the Mets not barreled a number of his sixth-inning pitches.
The inning started with a single by the Mets' pitcher, Robert Gsellman. He was erased on a deft 3-3-6 double play executed by Tommy Joseph. Then Asdrubal Cabrera singled on a 95-mph fastball and Yoenis Cespedes walked on five pitches. Catcher Cameron Rupp sauntered to the mound for a brief chat with Velasquez.
They decided to begin Bruce with a change-up. It floated, right into Bruce's swing path, and rocketed over the wall in right field. A disgusted Velasquez bent over as Bruce rounded the bases.
"That's how you lose games," Mackanin said.
It does not help that Maikel Franco, the team's hopeful cornerstone, is 0 for his last 21. He grounded out to leave the bases loaded in the fifth, which prevented the Phillies from adding to a two-run lead. He struck out with a runner on third and one out in the eighth. Franco has hit the ball hard, but has yet to see results.
Every Velasquez outing is subject to microscopic analysis. He has great potential. He has the highest upside of a Phillies pitcher. But he will not solve the mysteries of pitching overnight. The Phillies will start him every fifth day, as is prudent with a 24-year-old right arm like Velasquez's.
"I felt more relaxed," Velasquez said. "Bruce is a mistake hitter. You make one mistake and he can turn it around. I'm not going to do that again."