Velasquez leads Phillies' victory, deserves another start


It had the makings of one of those here-we-go-again-Vinny nights.

Yep, Vince Velasquez did not exactly get off to an auspicious start when he gave up a mammoth, 446-foot home run to Lorenzo Cain on the eighth pitch of the game.

And it didn't get a lot better when he allowed a hit and a walk to the next two batters in a 27-pitch top of the first inning.

But, as we've learned over five-plus mostly frustrating seasons, you never quite know what you're going to get from Vinny Velo, and on Monday night, the mercurial right-hander stopped the bleeding quickly and delivered six strong innings in a tense 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Citizens Bank Park.

The victory, capped by Hector Neris' sixth save — a very nervous one — snapped a two-game losing streak for the Phillies and left them at 14-15.

Neris struck out the side in the ninth to earn a five-out save. He threw 40 pitches in getting those five outs.

In the ninth, he allowed a leadoff double then struck out the next two batters before a walk and an infield hit loaded the bases.

Neris struck out Cain on a check swing with the bases loaded to end the game.

"It's a gutsy performance by Hector," manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't ever like a pitcher going that many pitches and I know he threw a few in the inning before, but just really gutsy. He looked over (before the last batter) and said, 'I got this.' That was his last hitter no matter what. Obviously, he did a heck of a job.

"You have to win this game, especially when your closer does something like that. If you lose this game, this is a tough loss. I mean, really a tough loss."

The Brewers (17-12) entered the game tied with Brother Gabe Kapler's San Francisco Giants for the best record in the National League and they got a little stronger when both Cain and former NL MVP Christian Yelich were activated from the injured list before the game.

After Yelich followed Cain's homer with a single in the top of the first inning, Velasquez allowed just two hits the rest of his outing. He walked two and struck out six while becoming the first Phillies starter this season not named Nola, Wheeler or Eflin to go six innings.

Velasquez and the Phillies did not trail for long in this game.

Brad Miller singled against Adrian Houser with one out in the bottom of the first inning and came around to score on J.T. Realmuto's third homer of the season, a booming shot to left that landed in the second deck. (Since the start of 2019, the Phillies are 23-3 when Realmuto homers at home.)

The Phillies built their lead to 4-1 in the second inning when Odubel Herrera reached on an error and scored on a triple by Roman Quinn. Velasquez then helped himself by delivering Quinn with a ground ball to the right side.

Velasquez allowed two baserunners with two outs in the third inning but skirted trouble. He retired the final 10 batters he faced.

"I commend Joe for letting me stay out there," Velasquez said. "I settled in and retired 10 in a row. I was locked in. Once you're in that mood, man, it's a great feeling."

Velasquez moved into the rotation as a fill-in for Matt Moore when the latter went into COVID-19 protocol two weeks ago. Moore has been back for a week now but has not seen action. He has become the forgotten man on the Phillies' pitching staff, probably because he had a 9.82 ERA in 11 innings over three starts.

Velasquez has made three starts in place of Moore and totaled 14⅓ innings. His ERA is 3.77 in those starts.

Other than saying that Moore has been available for relief work, Girardi has been vague when discussing the left-hander's role. 

Girardi would not say who would start when the spot comes up in the rotation again Saturday night in Atlanta, but Velasquez, who prefers starting over relief work, has earned it.

"My job is to pitch," he said. "If it's in the rotation or the bullpen, that's Joe's decision. But when you have performances like this, it's just going to kind of settle in and it's going to marinate, so at the end of the day, all I can do is keep pitching and that's all I want to do. I want to help this team win."

After Velasquez departed with a 4-1 lead, Sam Coonrod struck out the side in the seventh. Things got hairy in the top of the eighth as Connor Brogdon walked the first two batters and both scored to cut the Phillies' lead to a run before Neris picked Avisail Garcia off first base to end the frame.

With a short bullpen — Jose Alvarado began his two-game suspension — Neris was asked to get five outs, not always an easy assignment for a closer who is wired to pitch one inning.

Neris walked a tightrope above an alligator pit for the save.

After throwing 40 pitches, Neris won't be available on Tuesday night. Neither will Alvarado, of course. The Phils could use some length from Aaron Nola. They have not won two games in a row in a month, since the third and fourth games of the season. Is Tuesday night the night?

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