Phillies-Mets 5 things: Phils need longer outing from Vince Velasquez

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Phils need longer outing from Vince Velasquez

Phillies (3-5) vs. Mets (5-3)
7:05 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Uncle.

The Mets came into Citizens Bank Park and had themselves a home run derby, one even more eye-popping than last April 19 when the Mets came here and hit six homers.

This time, they hit seven. Yoenis Cespedes hit three (411 feet on the first, 428 on the second, 382 on the third), Lucas Duda hit two (448 on the first, 375 on the second), Asdrubal Cabrera hit one (393), as did Travis d'Arnaud (354).  

The Mets have a tendency to make Citizens Bank Park look like a little-league field and they did it again Tuesday.

1. Straight dominance
The Mets are 28-12 in their last 40 games against the Phillies

They've hit 27 home runs against the Phils in 11 games since the start of 2016 -- no National League team has more homers in any opposing ballpark over that span.

The Mets had 20 hits and 14 extra-base hits last night. The last team in the majors to do that was actually the Mets vs. the Phillies in August 2015. Prior to that, no team had done it since 1999. 

It's been done only 10 times since 1940. 

2. Pitching shakeup
After the game, the Phillies optioned LHP Adam Morgan to Triple A. The Phillies have recalled Luis Garcia from Lehigh Valley to get the Phillies a fresh arm in the bullpen.

Morgan had an ugly outing in relief of the injured Clay Buchholz last night, no doubt. But just keep in mind how difficult the role of "long man in a blowout" can be. You're entering a situation where the other team is comfortably ahead, numerous hitters are locked in and feeling confident and playing with nothing to lose. Typically, a long man is a long man because he doesn't have great stuff. We saw Brett Oberholtzer struggle continually in the role last season and Morgan did the same last night.

It's a shame for Morgan, "a tough pill to swallow," as he called it, but he also deserves credit for standing there and facing the questions from reporters Tuesday night. A lot of guys would have packed their stuff and gotten out of there ASAP. 

Who knows if this is the last we see of Morgan, but last night's outing certainly had to make the Phillies wonder whether he's worth carrying in that role.

3. Innings needed from Velasquez
Vince Velasquez exceeded six innings in only three of his 24 starts last season. Pete Mackanin and Bob McClure are really hoping he does so tonight.

The Phillies didn't use any of their back-end bullpen pieces last night, saving Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Pat Neshek in the blowout. But a longer outing tonight for Velasquez would be important for his confidence and really for the entire team's psyche given the Mets' recent ownership of their starting pitchers.

Velasquez's first start was almost an exaggerated version of who he was last season: lots of flashes, lots of strikeouts, lots of pitches, early exit.

Against the Nationals, Velasquez lasted four innings, giving up four runs and two homers, walking three and striking out 10. It was his fourth 10-strikeout game already as a Phillie.

Velasquez has tended to struggle against better offensive teams like the Cubs and Nats, but the Mets have so much swing-and-miss potential in their lineup that this could be a productive night for him as long as he's spotting his fastball. 

Current Mets have hit .213 off Velasquez with 18 strikeouts in 47 at-bats and only two have homered off him: Cespedes and Michael Conforto.

4. Wheeler's long road back
The Mets tonight start 23-year-old right-hander Zach Wheeler, the sixth overall pick in 2009 who they acquired from the San Francisco Giants in 2011 for a half-season of Carlos Beltran.

Wheeler impressed in 2013 and 2014 with the Mets, going 18-16 with a 3.50 ERA and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings over 49 starts. 

Then in March 2015 he was diagnosed with a torn UCL and required Tommy John surgery. He missed all of that season.

He continued rehabbing in 2016, beginning the year on the 60-day DL and not making a rehab start until Aug. 6. He threw 17 pitches in that game before exiting and being diagnosed with a flexor strain in his right arm. The Mets eventually shut him down for the season.

Wheeler made his return last week, allowing five runs in four innings to the Marlins. His fastball was in the 93 to 95 mph range but he couldn't locate his slider and changeup, throwing only 12 of 21 for strikes.

Look for Wheeler to try to get a feel for those pitches early.

Because he spent the last two years on the shelf, only two active Phillies have ever seen the 6-4 right-hander: Cesar Hernandez and Andres Blanco are each 1 for 2.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are third in the NL with 42 runs scored but, of course, 17 of them came in the one game last Saturday against Washington. In their other seven games, they've averaged 3.57 runs, which is even lower than last season's 3.77.

• Hernandez was the only Phillie to have a multi-hit game last night. He and Howie Kendrick have done their job so far atop the order, though it's surprising that Hernandez hasn't attempted a stolen base a week into the season.

• Noah Syndergaard tweeted last night: "Home team stadium started the WAVE tonight. Lost 14-4. Coincidence?"

The man has a point. Perhaps the wind created from all those waving arms provided the extra juice on Lucas Duda's 448-foot homer or Cespedes' 428-footer.

But in general, I agree with Syndergaard: Ban the wave.

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.