Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Vince Velasquez returns in a hitter's park


Phillies (32-45) at Diamondbacks (36-42)
9:40 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies move on to the third and final series of their nine-game road trip Monday night when they begin a three-game series at Chase Field with the Diamondbacks.

It was just over a week ago that the D-backs came into Citizens Bank Park and swept the Phillies in a four-game series. The three pitchers the Phils face in Phoenix are the first three they faced in Philly.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Velasquez returns
Vince Velasquez (5-2, 3.65) was activated off the 15-day DL Monday and will make his return to the Phillies' rotation. Velasquez ended up missing 17 games and three starts, but it could have turned out much worse after he was diagnosed with a right biceps strain. A biceps injury can sometimes be a precursor to more serious elbow issues, but Velasquez appears to have avoided long-term damage.

Velasquez was sharp last Wednesday in his one and only rehab start at Reading, sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and touching 97. There was little left to prove, health-wise, following that start, and the Phillies elected to bring him back to the majors and send struggling Adam Morgan to the bullpen.

Velasquez had been scuffling in his own right before going on the DL. He had a 2.42 ERA and .197 opponents' batting average through his first eight starts, but in his last four he allowed 12 runs in 13⅓ innings and his opponents hit .379 with five home runs.

The time off was good for Velasquez, he said. He used it to clear his head and chose not to go back and watch the film of his three poor starts against the Tigers, Cubs and Brewers.

If Velasquez, who threw 76 pitches in last week's rehab start, can get through six innings tonight, it will be his first time doing so since May 12 in Atlanta. His last quality start came on May 1 at home against the Indians.

2. Playing the dimensions
Chase Field in Phoenix is not the ideal location for Velasquez's first start back. With the dark green batter's eye in center field and the way the ball carries, it's one of the game's most hitter-friendly ballparks.

There have been 103 home runs hit in 38 games this season at Chase Field, third-most among NL stadiums behind — surprise, surprise — Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Coors Field in Colorado. It's about as far from AT&T Park as it gets — the stadium in San Francisco the Phillies are coming from has seen just 50 home runs all year.

The Diamondbacks have felt the brunt of that damage. They're 13-25 at home and have allowed nine more home runs than their opponents, who have an .817 OPS at Chase Field.

The D-backs have a 5.28 ERA and 1.46 WHIP at home. The three starting pitchers they'll face this week — Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke and Archie Bradley — have respective home ERAs of 5.89, 5.06 and 5.79.

3. Another crack at Ray
The Phillies faced Ray, a 24-year-old lefty, 10 days ago in Philly. Ray allowed two runs over six innings with seven strikeouts in a 10-2 D-backs win.

Ray's fastball averages 93.6 mph, the highest average velocity of any left-handed starter in baseball. You just don't see too many southpaws throwing heat these days — Ray (16th) and Steven Matz (17th) are the only two lefties in the top 20.

According to Pitch/FX, Ray threw just two pitches against the Phillies in that June 17 start: 89 four-seam fastballs and 19 sliders among 108 pitches. His velocity ranged from 85 mph with the slider up to 97 with the heater.

Current Phillies are 7 for 24 (.292) against Ray with two extra-base hits, a Cameron Rupp triple and a Cody Asche double. 

4. Offensive momentum
Had I told you before the Phillies' road trip began that they'd score a total of 22 runs in Minnesota, beat Madison Bumgarner and hang six runs on Johnny Cueto, you'd have assumed they'd be something like 4-2, right? Well, they're 2-4 so far because they haven't pitched well or caught the ball consistently this last week.

Still, it's been pleasant to see the Phillies' offense bounce back after all the time it spent at rock bottom. The key cogs in June have been Peter Bourjos, who's hit .404 in 51 plate appearances; Rupp, who's hit .283 with five homers, four doubles and a triple; Asche, who has eight doubles and two homers; and Andres Blanco, who has seven extra-base hits. 

The Phillies have hit .273 over their last seven games with 30 extra-base hits and a .798 OPS. They've out-homered their opponents 10-2.

5. This and that
• The All-Star game is creeping up and it's not easy to figure out which Phillie will get the nod (see story).

• The Phillies are 8-8 this season against left-handed starting pitchers. The only team in the majors to play fewer games against lefty starters has been the Red Sox (5-8).

• The Phils might want to try a new plan of attack with D-backs third baseman Jake Lamb. At CBP, he went 9 for 17 with a double, triple, two homers and five RBIs. Lamb, hitting .285/.364/.570 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs, could be an All-Star in two weeks.

• The D-backs have allowed 42 runs in six games since that Phillies series, in which they allowed five runs in four games.

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