Vince Velasquez’s first pitch Sunday was hit 397 feet to right field for a home run. The third pitch by the Phillies starter was smacked for a double. The 10-1 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park started at 1:39 p.m. and it took just a few minutes to realize Velasquez was in for a rough afternoon.
The Braves battered Velasquez for six runs in four innings. He allowed six hits and threw just 44 of his 73 pitches for strikes. It seemed as if everything he threw was hit hard. Velasquez, who now has a 5.70 ERA, has allowed at least four earned runs in less than five innings in three of his six starts.
The leadoff homer — which came off a fastball — was crushed by Ozzie Albies. Johan Camargo smoked Velasquez’s change-up in the third for a three-run homer. Velasquez, visibly frustrated, bent over on the mound as as the fans booed.
“Once in a while you’re going to have one of these days and you shouldn’t beat yourself up because it’s just going to add up,” Velasquez said. “I’ll look back at some film and reflect back and go back to the actual first outings and maybe even reflect back to a couple years ago and how I was successful in a couple of games. This is the process of getting better and you utilize stuff like this to better you. You shouldn’t let it drain you or anything like that. That’s the whole part of learning.”
The Phillies have lost six of their nine meetings this season with the Braves, who suddenly look like a team on the rise with the emergence of Ozzie Albiez and Ronald Acuna. Velasquez has faced the Braves three times this season and has allowed 13 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings. Velasquez has tried to attack the Braves with his fastball, but they’ve feasted on it.
The offense provided little help. The Phillies struck out 13 times and scored just one run for the second-straight game. Again, it was driven in by Maikel Franco, who brought home Aaron Altherr on an infield grounder. Altherr went 3 for 4 to bring his batting average to .200 for the first time since opening day.
It was a “tough day across the board,” manager Gabe Kapler said. The Phillies started the 10-game homestand with a four-game sweep of the Pirates. They ended it by dropping two games to both the Diamondbacks and Braves.
“It’s baseball, man. You have to understand that it’s baseball,” Franco said. “When we come in here, everyone expects to win. When something happens like that, you just have to try and forget everything and be ready for the next day. Monday we play Miami and we’ll go out there with the same energy and same aggressiveness and try to win the ball game. That’s what it’s about.”
Jake Thompson, who was optioned after the game to triple A, relieved Velasquez and pitched three scoreless innings before giving up three runs in the eighth. Luis Garcia allowed an RBI double in the ninth to Germantown Friends product and former Phillies first-round pick Jesse Biddle, who handled the final two innings for the Braves in his Citizens Bank Park debut.
Kapler called on Drew Hutchison, who had already warmed up twice previously, to record the final out of the ninth. The manager walked slowly to the mound before calling for the reliever. It seemed Hutchison was not quite ready.
“You always like to give guys a few extra pitches. It’s not an unusual move, is it,” Kapler said. “From my perspective, sometimes you walk out slow and sometimes you walk out fast. Generally you walk out slow when you want to give your guys a couple extra pitches.”
Velasquez may have been able to get out of the third on a grounder that sneaked through the infield for a two-run single. The Phillies were shifting on Nick Markakis to the right side, leaving Cesar Hernandez no chance to field the slow grounder. A standard defensive alignment may have come away with an out. Instead it brought home two runs. And two batters later, Velasquez watched his change-up sail out of the park for Camargo’s three-run homer.
“We just had the shift on them, you can’t do anything about it,” Velasquez said. “Just executed a pitch and it rolled right through the infield. Something like that, it’s tough, but you’ve got to focus on getting the next hitter out, and I didn’t do it.”
Sunday was Velasquez’s 45th start with the Phillies since he was acquired in a December 2015 trade with Houston. He is averaging nearly a home run per start and has a 4.64 ERA over the last three seasons. The Phillies are committed to keeping him in the rotation as they wait for the pitcher to tap into the potential he has flashed. His fastball has been electric at times this season, and just last week, Kapler said the pitch had the characteristics to be elite. But it was far from elite Sunday. The commitment to Velasquez has come at a cost.
“We asked him to go out there and attack,” Kapler said. “He did attack with all of his pitches. He just didn’t have his best stuff.”