Phillies Mailbag: Velasquez's future, Crawford's slow start, 1B situation

Phillies Mailbag: Velasquez's future, Crawford's slow start, 1B situation

The box is full and your friendly neighborhood mailman is back to answer all those burning Phillies curiosities of yours. 

Hit me:

Vince Velasquez is a unique pitcher. He's in the top-five in baseball the last two seasons in strikeouts per nine innings among starting pitchers, but he's also toward the bottom in pitches per inning and innings per start.

With Velasquez, his K/9 doesn't really matter -- it's more like a K/5, because he rarely goes too much deeper into the game.

Velasquez is 26 starts into his Phillies career and has lasted past the sixth inning only three times. When he has a poor start, the Phils have little chance of a win because they're playing from behind early and forced to go to the bullpen. When he has a good outing, the Phillies still often require several scoreless innings from the 'pen to lock it down.

Velasquez is realistic about his struggles. He takes little solace in the high strikeout totals because they're less important than quick exits. He assessed his two starts this season as "terrible" and said he's not doing his team any favors.

If the Phillies wanted to convert him to the bullpen there is no doubt in my mind he'd be a very successful setup man or closer. He has the stuff and the mentality to be a closer. However, putting men on base is even more costly for a reliever and those lapses in control Velasquez has would be even more impactful in relief.

Still, it is the Phillies' goal to give him at least one more full season to gauge how much success he can have in a rotation. The talent and upside are there and they're not going anywhere. 

"There's no other alternative," manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday night when asked if he's content to wait it out with Velasquez. "Hopefully during the course of this season, he's going to show improvement. I have a lot of confidence in him making progress during the course of the year."

Matt Klentak didn't trade Ken Giles to Houston for a package led by Velasquez simply to replace Giles in the ninth inning with Velasquez a year later. But this organization will also be realistic about Velasquez' chances to contribute. 

The true deciding factor will be the progress made by the Phillies' young pitching prospects. The five guys at Triple-A -- Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively and Mark Appel -- will also get chances in the big leagues sooner rather than later. If they fail, there's no urgency or reason to move Velasquez. If several of them show their stuff can play at the big-league level, though, it will be an interesting conversation for the organization this winter.

But don't expect any change to be made with Velasquez's role in 2017.

J.P. Crawford is off to a rough start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, going 3 for 28 (.107) with one walk and 10 strikeouts in his first seven games.

It's a continuation of Crawford's struggles at the minors' highest level last season. All told, Crawford has been a .234/.315/.308 hitter in 414 plate appearances at Triple-A.

At some point, the performance for Crawford has to match the hype in order for the Phillies to feel confident he can produce every day in the majors. It sounds crazy because Crawford is their top prospect, but at this point, he is not ready to step in and contribute more than Freddy Galvis. Galvis is an elite defensive shortstop and continues to hit for power. Obviously, Galvis' on-base percentage last season was ugly, but if he feels the pressure placed on him by Crawford and improves in that regard, who knows when Crawford gets the job.

The bottom line is Crawford is going to have to hit his way up to the bigs. He won't be handed the job unless Galvis goes down with a long-term injury. Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said before the season that Crawford developed some bad habits at Double-A Reading last season that he carried with him to Triple A. If last season was about Crawford improving his defense, this season is about him showing his offensive ability consists of more than just plate discipline.

Joseph played well enough last season to earn the everyday job heading into this season, but it's not as if it's his job for good. He's being pushed by 1B Rhys Hoskins, who is off to a strong start at Triple-A after hitting 38 home runs with a high on-base percentage last season at Double A. Through eight games with the IronPigs, Hoskins has gone 9 for 26 (.346) with three doubles, a homer and four walks.

Before the season, Jordan referred to Hoskins as the "smartest hitter" at Lehigh Valley, which is high praise considering Crawford, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens are also there.

If Hoskins keeps hitting and Joseph is at .220 with a .290 on-base percentage in June or July, you could see the Phils add Hoskins to the 40-man roster, designate someone for assignment and call him up. In that scenario, why not see what he has? Hoskins is going to be 25 years old before the end of next spring training, so it's not as if he needs several more years of development.

This is an interesting question. As of Thursday night, the Phillies had allowed nine home runs already this season with two strikes and no other team had allowed more than six. The Phillies' team ERA with two strikes is 4.81; the MLB average is around 2.80.

Missing so badly with two strikes usually comes down to a lack of concentration. It can be execution, too, but oftentimes if the count is 0-2 or 1-2, the pitcher shouldn't be anywhere near the plate. That's when you bury a breaking ball or pump an enticing fastball high and just out of the strike zone.

Take a look at some of these two-strike pitches, especially to Yoenis Cespedes. Look where Cameron Rupp sets up and where the pitch ends up. Shoutout to MLB.com's Ben Harris for the screen grabs:

He's right. You can't pin that on Rupp. The pitchers simply need to hit their spots.

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Josh Reddick homered and scored four runs, Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez each went deep and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 12-9 on Thursday.

The major league-leading Astros completed a four-game sweep with their 10th straight victory in Oakland and their 15th win in 16 games against the A's overall. They've won 12 of their last 14 road games. Their 27-8 record away from home is the best in the majors.

Reddick also doubled, tripled and drew a walk, and Marisnick and Gonzalez each drove in three runs.

David Paulino (2-0) struck out six and gave up three runs, seven hits and two walks. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander struck out five of his first six batters in his sixth career start.

Astros center fielder George Springer left with a left hand contusion after being struck by a fastball from Jesse Hahn (3-5) leading off the game. The ball also grazed Springer's left shoulder. Springer is tied for second in the AL with 21 home runs. His status is day-to-day (see full recap).

Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks blast Rockies
DENVER -- Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers, Zack Godley threw well into the eighth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Thursday.

Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, tops in the majors.

Arizona took two of three in the NL West matchup and is now tied with Colorado for second place in the division behind the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 14 and are a season-high 19 games above .500.

Godley gave up a home run to Charlie Blackmon to lead off the first inning, but shut down the Rockies from there.

Blackmon drew a walk in the third, then Godley erased him with a double-play ball to end the inning. He didn't allow a hit after Nolan Arenado's one-out single in the first and retired 19 of the next 20 batters before Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika singled and doubled to lead off the eighth.

Godley (3-1) allowed three runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven-plus innings. He also helped himself with an RBI single in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks hit a Colorado rookie pitcher hard for the second straight night. Wednesday they scored 10 runs in the fourth off Jeff Hoffman, and Thursday they battered right-hander Antonio Senzatela (9-3) for nine runs in five innings.

Owings' homer in the third, his ninth, made it 5-1, and Goldschmidt hit his 18th to cap a four-run fourth to make it 9-1 (see full recap).

Knebel sets strikeout mark as Brewers top Pirates
MILWAUKEE -- Corey Knebel broke Arodlis Chapman's modern-era record for most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season's start, fanning a batter for the 38th straight game and closing out the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

Knebel struck out Josh Bell on a foul tip leading off the ninth. The 25-year-old right-hander retired Elias Diaz and Andrew McCutchen on popouts, finishing a four-hitter for his 12th save in 15 chances.

Chapman had set the mark since 1900 as part of a streak of 49 games for Cincinnati that began in August 2013 and ended the following August.

Travis Shaw drove in three runs with a homer and two doubles, and he came within inches of a second home run.

Chase Anderson (6-2) allowed two runs and two hits in six innings (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time (see story)

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the ninth inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco made a veteran play on the base paths, which felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent an errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third and score after the ball got loose in the infield. Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”