Resurgent Phillies have newfound confidence after solid road trip


PHOENIX — When the Phillies left on their recently-completed road trip, the club seemed to hit rock bottom.

Falling to the Twins on June 22 marked the Phillies' ninth loss in a row in a losing streak that saw them get swept by the Diamondbacks at home. In a matter of one week, the light switch flipped, and now the Phillies are an invigorated team filled with confidence and self-assurance.

Coming off a 5-4 trip, which included sweeping the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, a certain level of achievement is now realized. The question going forward: can the Phillies sustain that swagger found in the desert and rediscover their early-season success?

“This is a different team than when we left Philly,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “This team keeps responding. Look, we have 162 games, and there will be a lot of ups and downs.”

As the trip concluded, two factors emerged which could foreshadow the coming weeks. 

Perhaps the most noticeable was the bat of Cody Asche. After missing the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, Asche may have reached an important pinnacle with the Phillies. After being promoted to the majors as a third baseman and subsequently losing that job to Maikel Franco, Asche is now trying to make the transition to the outfield. In no uncertain terms, Asche has been told he needs to elevate his game, and quickly. Otherwise, there may not be a spot in the organization for this left-handed hitter.

Rapidly, Asche responded with a torrid June. After going 3 for 5 in the Wednesday finale against Arizona, Asche raised his batting average to .289. His numbers on the trip were frightening. He went 12 for 30 (.400) with six doubles and six RBIs. He drove in three runs alone in the 10-inning win on Wednesday afternoon.

Asche's bat wasn't the only one that came alive. When the Phillies left on June 20, the club was hitting .225. After the trip, the Phillies, as a team, are hitting .238.

“For us, I think the bubble was about to burst,” Asche, who hit third for the final road game, said. “It took a couple of guys to pop it and when that happened, it seemed like everyone followed. For me, I’m improving since my rehab start and Pete showed confidence by sticking me in the three-hole. Just plug me in anywhere and let’s get it going.”

Then, there’s the resurgence of Vince Velasquez.

Coming off the disabled list from a right biceps strain, Velasquez impressively shut down the Diamondbacks Monday night. Going five strong innings, he allowed five hits and no runs. On a strict pitch count, Mackanin took Velasquez out after 84 pitches, but indicated afterward his pitch count would likely increase.

Velazquez, brought over from Houston in the Ken Giles deal, started the season red hot. He allowed only five earned runs in his first five starts. Against San Diego on April 14, the 24-year-old fanned 16 Padres, the third highest in franchise history. Only Chris Short (with 18) and Art Mahaffey (17) struck out more hitters than Velazquez in a single game.

On Monday, Velasquez was back firing his fastball in the mid-90s, and projecting a high level of confidence. 

“My approach is, ‘Here’s my fastball, hit it,’” Velasquez said. “My arm feels great and I trust the training staff. Now, it’s up to me and my work ethic.”

Coming into play against Kansas City at home Friday night, the Phillies are 10 games under .500 and 12½ games behind the division-leading Nationals. If they plan to make a serious run, now is not a bad time. The combination of hot bats and the kind of residual effect Velasquez can have through the pitching staff should provide encouragement for the road ahead.

Contact Us