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 held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

BOX SCORE

The loudest noise made by the Phillies' offense on Monday night was the thud — clearly audible above the small crowd — that Odubel Herrera created when he smashed his batting helmet on the dirt infield after grounding out to third base to end the seventh inning.

Herrera's frustration spoke for an entire team. The Phillies were hammered, 8-1, by the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). They were out-hit, 13-3. The loss was the Phils' 18th in the last 22 games and they have been outscored 126-89 over that span.

The loss left the Phils at 15-27 for the season, matching their worst 42-game start since 2000 when they finished 65-97 in front of tiny crowds at Veterans Stadium in Terry Francona's last season as skipper.

Over the last two games, both losses, the Phils have just six hits.

"Three hits today, three hits yesterday," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

Aaron Altherr had two of the Phillies' hits, both doubles against Colorado rookie Jeff Hoffman, who was very impressive with seven walk-free innings and seven strikeouts.

Herrera went hitless in three at-bats and is hitting just .200 in the month of May and .232 overall — not what the front office expected when it signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in the offseason.

"It's very frustrating because I feel like I am being selective and waiting for my pitch, but when I make contact things don't happen," Herrera said. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat well, but I'm just missing."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up nine hits, seven of which were singles, and four runs over six innings. Four of the hits that Eickhoff allowed came in the third inning when the Rockies scored three times. Two of the runs scored on a flare double and the other on a groundball through a drawn-in infield.

"I executed a lot of good pitches," Eickhoff said. "I got a lot of the contact I wanted. The ball just didn't land in the gloves."

Eickhoff did not walk a batter. He struck out four.

Despite being 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA in nine starts, the right-hander believes he has made strides his last two outings. He gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings in his previous outing at Texas. Prior to that start, he worked on fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery.

"These past two have been night-and-day different," he said. "I felt great today and in Texas and I'm going to keep that positivity going."

Finding other things to be positive about with this team is becoming difficult.

This Phillies team was not expected to contend; it is still in a rebuild. But things weren't supposed to be this bad, either.

"I'll tell you what, I'm getting frustrated, too," general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. "This team is better … there is more talent on this team than we've shown in terms of our record.

"We'll pull out of it. We will. That's what talented players will do. I'm not going to tell the fans they shouldn't be frustrated. We've gone through a tough stretch.

"But I'm not ready to call it regression. I think there's been a lack of consistency on our team in general, with some players more than others. There's been a lack of consistency, but especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression."

At 29-17, the Rockies have the best record in the National League. They have 16 road wins, which is one more than the Phillies have overall. The Rockies are in town for three more days. This ugly start could get even uglier.

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Max Kepler homered and drove in four runs, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco each had a career-high four hits and the Minnesota Twins roared back to beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-7 Monday night.

Minnesota trailed 5-0 in the second inning and 6-2 entering the fifth before cranking up the offense against Ubaldo Jimenez and an ineffective Baltimore bullpen.

A two-run double by Kepler helped the Twins knot the score in the fifth, Minnesota sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run sixth and Sano added a two-run homer in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for the Twins, who reached season highs in runs and hits (21).

Adam Jones hit a three-run drive in the second inning off Kyle Gibson (1-4) for Baltimore (see full recap).

Peacock, Astros 1-hit Tigers
HOUSTON -- Brad Peacock and three relievers combined for a one-hitter and Jose Altuve provided the offense with an RBI double to lead the Houston Astros to 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

Peacock was solid moving out of the bullpen to make a spot start for injured ace Dallas Keuchel. In his first start since September, Peacock allowed the lone hit and struck out eight in 4 1/3 innings. He was lifted after walking Tyler Collins with one out in the fifth inning.

Chris Devenski (3-2) took over and pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win before Will Harris pitched a scoreless eighth. Ken Giles struck out two in the ninth for his 12th save to allow the Astros to bounce back after being swept by the Indians over the weekend.

Detroit's only hit was a single by Mikie Mahtook with one out in the third on a night the Tigers tied a season high by striking out 14 times. The team's only baserunner after Collins was Victor Martinez, who was plunked with one out in the seventh. But Houston still faced the minimum in that inning when J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end the seventh.

The Astros struck early against Michael Fulmer (5-2) when George Springer drew a leadoff walk before scoring on the double by Altuve to make it 1-0 with one out in the first (see full recap).

Homers help Yankees top Royals
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Chris Carter homered, and the New York Yankees once again downed Jason Vargas by beating the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Monday night.

A reversed umpire's call in the seventh inning kept the Yankees ahead and enabled Michael Pineda (5-2) to top Vargas for the second time in a week. The Royals, with the worst record in the AL, have lost five of seven.

Vargas (5-3) began the day with a 2.03 ERA, tied for second-best in the majors. But the lefty fell to 0-7 lifetime against the Yankees when he was tagged by Gardner and Gregorius, the only left-handed hitters in the New York lineup (see full recap).