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.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies (43-77) at Giants (50-74)
9:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their sixth straight game on Friday night and fell to 0-5 on their West Coast road trip. The last-place Giants raced out to a quick lead against Zach Eflin and beat the Phils handily, 10-2.

Jerad Eickhoff, who left with the Phillies leading on Monday, looks to continue his recent success against Ty Blach and the Giants in a Saturday night affair.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Eickhoff quietly improving
You wouldn't know it just looking at his 4.33 ERA, but Eickhoff has put together a strong stretch in recent weeks.

In his last five starts, which dates back to July 23, he's thrown 28 2/3 innings with allowing just nine earned runs, good for a 2.83 ERA. In that span, he's notched three quality starts and has 25 strikeouts. While he's limited opponents to just one home run, he's still walked 12. He's lowered his ERA by half a run in this time.

You certainly have to factor in the level of competition. Beyond a struggling yet potent Milwaukee offense, he pitched against Atlanta twice, a weak Angels lineup (which does feature Mike Trout) and the lackluster Padres. The Giants aren't much better, so it's not hard to see him extending his recent success. 

Eickhoff's mini-roll has been easy to overlook with Aaron Nola's dominant summer and Eickhoff being a 27-year-old on a team looking towards even younger players. But you can't forget that he was their best starter last season and should be able to hit at least 150 innings, a year after throwing 197 1/3. 

He's no ace, but that's not what he's asked to be. He's an average to slightly above-average starter and there's plenty of value in that. And if you're comparing him to last season, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is actually better in 2017 than 2016, indicating he's been a little unlucky this year.

Eickhoff started against Blach in June and put together his worst start of the season, giving up 11 baserunners and five runs while recording just eight outs. He didn't give up any home runs, but he walked five batters and struck out just two. 

Denard Span went 3 for 3 vs. Eickhoff while Eduardo Nunez, who's since been traded, was 2 for 2 with a walk. Blach even walked twice in two plate appearances.

2. Back with Blach
While Eickhoff had his worst start of the year against Blach and the Giants, Blach had one of the best, if not the best, starts of his young career (the other option being eight innings of shutout ball vs. the Dodgers down the stretch last season). 

He threw a seven-hit shutout. He struck out four, walked none and needed 112 pitches to dispatch the Phillies in just five batters more than the minimum. He was the first of three pitchers (Carlos Martinez, Clayton Richard) to throw shutouts against the Phillies this season.

And the soft-tossing lefty started out the season in the bullpen. He made four appearances (two starts) down the stretch in 2016 and was filling a minor role in the Giants' bullpen this April. However, he was given a full-time spot in the rotation once Madison Bumgarner injured his shoulder, and he hasn't looked back.

He leads all rookies with 134 innings pitched. He's 14th out of 34 rookie starters in ERA (4.37) but he's fourth in wins above replacement (WAR), likely because of his durability and his innings total as much as his effectiveness.

Outside of his gem at Citizens Bank Park, he's been quite hittable on the road. Home is where he's been at his best with a 3.60 ERA compared to a 5.50 mark away from AT&T Park. That's because he doesn't strike many batters out, walks only a few, and really relies on his fielders. Therefore, he's a great beneficiary of playing at the one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in baseball, where a fly-ball pitcher like Blach can truly excel. 

The 26-year-old southpaw works off a 90-mph fastball and 80-mph changeup, working in a 12-6 curve and occasional slider.

Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp each picked up two hits against Blach in June, while Maikel Franco had one as well (Howie Kendrick had the other two).

3. Don't go west, young men
When the Phillies have traveled to the opposite coast this season, their destiny has manifested itself in plenty of misfortune and poor play. 

After the 10-2 loss on Friday night, they are now 4-16 west of Texas, suffering sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers, Angels and Padres. They also went 2-5 combined against the Rockies and Diamondbacks, salvaging a two-game sweep against the Mariners in their western escapades. 

A lot of it's easy to parse out: Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies are all playoff teams. Angels are currently tied for the second wild card in the American League. 

But the showing this week has been especially painful. The Phils took two of three from the Giants in June, one of their rare series wins, and the Padres are a team that isn't designed to compete in 2017. These aren't just the worst teams in the NL West, they're two of the worst in baseball and the Phillies are cementing themselves in the cellar of the National League with this poor trip out west.

In San Diego and San Francisco, they've been outscored 33-14 by the teams that are 28th and 30th, respectively, in OPS. 

Luckily for the Phils, they've got no more West Coast trips left after this weekend and only 14 of their last 40 games are on the road. That's plenty of games at CBP, where they are a much more respectable 24-31 (compared to 19-46 on the road).

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins is just 2 for 12 with three walks against left-handed pitchers, but both hits are home runs. 

Giants: After going 2 for 4 on Friday night with a double and home run, Hunter Pence has a six-game hitting streak going. He has six multi-hit games this month and is batting .351 in August.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have faced 19 teams this year and have a winning record against only one of them (Atlanta).

• Checking in with some recent former Phillies: Jeremy Hellickson allowed five home runs to the Angels on Friday night, including one to New Jersey's own Trout.

• Now with the Nationals, Kendrick has hit even better than he did with the Phillies. Going into Friday's action, he had a .353/.400/.667 batting line with four home runs.

• Pat Neshek has struck out seven batters in 6 1/3 innings, but he's allowed five runs (three earned). He's given up 10 hits, though he's yet to walk a batter.

• Lastly, Joaquin Benoit has had a rough go of it in Pittsburgh. He has a 11.81 ERA, giving up nine runs (seven earned) in just 5 1/3 innings. The 40-year-old reliever has as many hit-by-pitches as strikeouts with the Pirates.

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The state of California has become the state of despair for the Phillies.

They fell to 0-11 in the state after a 10-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

The Phils suffered three-game sweeps against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Angels in Anaheim and the Padres in San Diego. They have now lost the first two of a four-game series against the Giants in the northern part of the state.

Friday night's defeat was the Phillies' sixth straight, dropping them to a season-high 34 games under .500. They are 19-46 on the road and 6-22 against the National League West.

The loss was embarrassing because the Phils were held to one hit over seven scoreless innings by the pitcher with the highest ERA in the NL. Giants lefty Matt Moore entered with an ERA of 5.71. The Phils finished with just four hits, all singles.

The loss may also have been costly because starting pitcher Zach Eflin, one of the young pitchers the Phillies would like to build around, gave up seven hits and six runs and had to leave the game after five innings with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder. Earlier this season, Eflin, 23, missed time with an elbow strain.

Eflin said he'd felt soreness in the back of this shoulder before.

"This is a little different than I've had before," Eflin said. "It's just kind of a steady tightness. It's something I wasn't comfortable continuing with. I don't think it's anything serious. It's more of a precautionary thing."

The shoulder tightness didn't affect Eflin's velocity. He threw breaking balls early in the game and gave up three runs in the first inning. In the fourth inning, he used his four-seam fastball and hit 96 mph on the radar gun while getting three quick outs. Manager Pete Mackanin said he'd like to see more of that from Eflin. Of course, now it's safe to wonder when Eflin will pitch again. The Phils will surely be careful with him.

The Phillies are already making some adjustments to their starting rotation. Right-hander Ben Lively will be recalled from Triple A to take Odubel Herrera's spot on the roster. Herrera went on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring (see story). Lively will start against the Giants on Sunday while scheduled starter Mark Leiter Jr. goes to the bullpen.

The Phillies were never in Friday night's game. They got three of their four hits and both of their runs (on a bloop hit by Freddy Galvis) in the eighth inning and the Giants came back and scored four in the bottom of the inning.

Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro had the Phillies' first two hits of the game, the only two that Moore gave up. Moore (4-12) earned his first win since June 20.

In a span of three days, the Phillies have been held to two runs over 16 1/3 innings by a pair of lefties with high ERAs. They were shut out by Clayton Richard in San Diego on Wednesday. He entered that game with a 5.14 ERA.

"It's frustrating when you look up at the numbers and you see that," Mackanin said. "You kind of hope we can get to the guy. But for whatever reason, the bats are just silent right now."

The Phillies' offense has been bad all season, but it has been especially bad lately. Over the last nine games, they have scored just 25 runs, an average of 2.8 per game. The Phils are 1-8 in those contests.