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 and the NBC Sports App


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.

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- A tempestuous three-game series between the Red Sox and Baltimore wound up with Matt Barnes being ejected for throwing a fastball behind the head of Orioles star Manny Machado in Boston's 6-2 victory Sunday.

Barnes' ejection was the latest facet of this tense rivalry between AL East rivals. His high, very inside pitch came two days after Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-high slide.

Pedroia watched from the dugout for a second straight day Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. Machado apologized with a text message on Friday night, but that evidently wasn't the end of it.

When Machado batted in the sixth inning, Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches down and in near the knees. He came up again in the eighth and Barnes' pitch whizzed behind Machado and hit his bat. The ball hit Machado and rolled foul, and plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed Barnes (see full recap).

Bour's 3-run homer lifts Marlins past Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Justin Bour hit a three-run homer to cap the six-run sixth inning and help the Miami Marlins to a 7-3 victory Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

The first six Marlins batters reached and scored in the sixth, helping Tom Koehler (1-1) to his first win of the season.

San Diego's Luis Perdomo came off the disabled list and shut down the Marlins through five before hitting the wall in the sixth. Martin Prado hit a leadoff single, Christian Yelich walked and Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI single to chase Perdomo.

Craig Stammen (0-1) came on and allowed Marcell Ozuna's RBI double just past the glove of first baseman Wil Myers and J.T. Realmuto's RBI single to left before Bour hit a no-doubter to right field, his third.

Kevin Quackenbush relieved and got three straight outs (see full recap).

Astros use 2-run 10th to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel both had RBI singles in the 10th inning, and the Houston Astros rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday.

Carlos Beltran opened the 10th by drawing a walk from Ryan Garton (0-1) and went to second on Jose Altuve's single. After reaching third on Carlos Correa's fly to center, Beltran scored to make it 5-4 on McCann's hit to right.

Gurriel's two-out single put Houston ahead 6-4.

Luke Gregerson (1-1) went a scoreless ninth before Ken Giles got three out for his fifth save.

The Astros tied it at 4 on pinch-hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off closer Alex Colome, who was bidding for a two-inning save, in the ninth.

Brad Miller had an RBI triple, Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer, and Jesus Sucre added a run-scoring single as the Rays went up 4-0 in the first (see full recap).

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges


A constant theme during the Phillies' playoff run from 2007-11 was that even when the offense was sputtering, it never felt like they were out of a game. That group of players picked up so many late hits and mounted so many comebacks that even a five-run deficit heading into the final three innings felt like a winnable game.

The 2017 Phillies are a much different, much less experienced, much less powerful team, but their late-game offense has been a surprisingly fun development this April.

The Phillies used back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning Sunday to pick up a 5-2 win over the Braves and a series sweep (see Instant Replay). Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Arodys Vizcaino. Aaron Altherr followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. The Braves switched pitchers, then Odubel Herrera hit a solo homer of his own.

Just like that, ballgame.

The Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. That's more than the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Mariners, Pirates, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Giants and Astros have combined.

They've scored 14 runs in the eighth inning and 27 in innings 7-9. Both figures rank third-best in the National League behind only the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Unexpected late-game heroics and unexpected power from some unlikely sources.

"It's always a bonus to have a team like that," manager Pete Mackanin said. "These guys pull for each other. We have a good bench, we have some interchangeable players that can step in and do a good job. ... They're fighters and it's good to see."

Hernandez continues to open eyes with his developing power. He has four home runs through 18 games after hitting six all of last season. He has more extra-base hits (nine) than Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, among many others.

And he's done it without sacrificing his eye at the plate and slap-hitting ability. Hernandez is hitting .338 through 80 at-bats.

Hernandez gained muscle over the winter and reported to spring training looking noticeably bigger, but Mackanin credits the power surge to a change in his swing plane.

"He had an uppercut swing," Mackanin said. "He worked underneath the ball, which made him a low-ball hitter. I think the fact that we convinced him to level out his swing and stay on top of the ball -- work above the ball and work your way down through the strike zone -- I think has not only given him more power but also (the ability) to hit more line drives and use the whole field."

Makes sense. Managers, hitting coaches and players talk all the time about how you don't hit a home run when you're trying to hit a home run, you hit one when you're thinking up the middle and catch the ball with the barrel.

Hernandez hasn't lofted more balls because he's trying to loft them, he's done it by getting stronger and developing a more consistent swing.

"He's an on-base guy and a leadoff hitter and now I'm starting to think of him as a cleanup hitter as well," Mackanin said jokingly. "It is nice. It's good to see. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to hit line drives and when you work above the ball and level your swing out and you hit the bottom half of the ball, the ball is going to go up with a line-drive swing. Because of that, he's hitting more gaps and hitting for more power."

In a way, it's similar to what Herrera did last season, jumping from eight home runs as a rookie to 15 as a sophomore as he continued learning the strike zone, learning major-league pitchers and learning of his own capabilities.

"I love watching Cesar hit the ball," Herrera said. "He has a beautiful swing and he makes great contact on the ball. It's great to be behind him."

With Hernandez leading off and Herrera batting third, the top of the Phillies' lineup has gotten on base a ton. They've gotten a .384 on-base percentage from the 1-3 spots in the order. Just imagine how many additional runs the Phillies would have produced to this point if Maikel Franco or Tommy Joseph were hitting consistently.

"I like all three right there," Mackanin said. "I like Howie Kendrick, also. I'm anxious for him to get back (from the DL) and then we'll go from there. We've got some good things going. We've got a good bench. We've got Altherr, (Daniel) Nava, (Andres) Blanco. We've got (Andrew) Knapp who's doing a good job behind the plate. I think we're in pretty good shape that way."

It's not going to be an explosive, league-leading offense, but it's certainly a deeper offense than it was a year ago. An addition like Nava, for example, has proven to be underrated and pay early dividends. Remember, he was one of the last men chosen for the opening day roster. So far this April, he's succeeded in every role in which the Phillies have used him.

Despite not playing regularly, Nava has reached base in 16 of his first 31 plate appearances, something no first-year Phillie has done since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

"Nava is really valuable to us," Mackanin said. "He's a part-time player that gives you good at-bats, quality at-bats. He works the count, obviously the first game of the season he showed us he's got power. Gap power and the occasional home run from both sides of the plate. 

"Watching a guy like that, you can't help but notice. If it was me and I was a free swinger, I'd go up to him and ask him, 'How do I tone it down a little bit?' He just doesn't get himself out."