NEW YORK — The triple-A all-stars gathered Tuesday afternoon for a team photo in the outfield of a minor-league ballpark around the same time Enyel De Los Santos sat alone in the visiting dugout of Citi Field for a brief moment of reflection before the biggest night of his career.
He was trying to calm his nerves, De Los Santos admitted after turning in a solid performance to record his first major-league victory in a 7-3 win over the Mets. The Phillies prospect was supposed to be in Columbus, Ohio, grinning for the camera before starting Wednesday night’s All-Star Game. De Los Santos has been one of triple A’s best pitchers and that was a fitting honor. But he instead had to settle for a night in the major leagues. And De Los Santos made the most of his chance.
The righthander held the Mets to three runs on five hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings in his major-league debut. De Los Santos’ fastball touched 97 mph and he used a delivery that gives his pitches some deception. He was sent back to triple A after the win, but De Los Santos proved he could hang in the majors.
“I think I showed them that I’m capable of doing really good things here,” De Los Santos said. “I’m confident. I think I did a pretty good job. So, yeah, hopefully I opened some eyes.”
The rookie helped push the Phillies to their 10th win in 13 games. They regained sole possession of first place in the NL East with Atlanta’s loss to Toronto, and can win their fourth straight series with a victory on Wednesday.
He used his fastball for all six strikeouts while mixing in a curveball and change-up. It was easy to understand why De Los Santos was scheduled to be in that photo in Columbus. He was optioned to the minors to make room for Vince Velasquez, who will return from the disabled list to start Wednesday. The 22-year-old’s performance on Tuesday should be enough to put pressure on the starting rotation, especially Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, both of whom have been troubled by inconsistencies.
The Phillies have 21 more wins through 90 games than they did last season. They are finding a balance between developing a young roster and pushing for a playoff berth, which seems to become more believable with each day. And it is that balance that will not allow De Los Santos to stay in the minors if there are some stumbles by Phillies starters.
“I think competition is always a good thing,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I hadn’t thought of that in particular but what first came to mind was Curt Schilling in 2004 saying very emphatically that in order to win a World Series, you need not 25 guys, you need 35 guys. I thought this was a very clear indication that you need guys to come up and make big starts for you. You need guys to come up and have big clutch pinch-hits for you and sometimes they need to be in your organization. You can’t always go out and get them.”
The Phillies provided De Los Santos with plenty of support. Maikel Franco crushed a three-run homer in the second inning to alleviate any pressure the pitcher may have felt. Nick Williams had three hits, including a two-run single in the third. De Los Santos had a five-run lead after facing just seven batters.
Odubel Herrera added a homer in the fifth for his 16th of the season, surpassing the career high he set in 2016. The Phillies finished with 13 hits, one more than they combined for in Monday’s doubleheader. Rhys Hoskins learned earlier in the day that his fractured jaw was healed, which allowed him to ditch his double-flapped batting helmet and slap three hits. He felt like a big-leaguer again, Hoskins joked. Trevor Plouffe, who was promoted in the afternoon from triple A, had a pinch-hit single. The Phillies’ offense rolled.
They blitzed Mets rookie Drew Gagnon, who failed to finish five innings in his major-league debut. It was the first time since 1944 that a Phillies game featured two starting pitchers making their major-league debuts. But only one of them on Tuesday night looked like a rookie. And De Los Santos had no qualms about missing out on a free trip to Ohio.
“This was much better. This is a dream come true,” he said. “This is an opportunity that I cannot pass up.”