Phillies-Mets 5 things: Vince Velasquez could sure use a confidence boost

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Vince Velasquez could sure use a confidence boost

Phillies at Mets
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Hey, the Phillies beat the Mets! 

One win won't change the momentum in this divisional series owned by the Mets since 2014, but it had to feel good for Pete Mackanin and the boys to execute down the stretch against a team that's usually comfortably ahead in the later innings.

Tuesday's game was U-G-L-Y in all phases. Bad defense, dropped throws, boneheaded baserunning, pitchers constantly falling behind hitters. The Mets looked lifeless, for whatever reason. Maybe they left their mojo in Miami.

Here's a look at the middle game of the series:

1. Third time's the charm?
Vince Velasquez's first two starts have not gone well.

He's lasted just nine total innings and given up nine runs, needing 194 pitches to record 27 outs. A rate of 21.6 pitches per inning won't work for anyone and Velasquez knows it.

He was his own harshest critic last Wednesday night in the Phillies' clubhouse after he allowed five runs and walked four Mets in five innings. He has 17 strikeouts in those nine innings, but that's secondary to the quick exits and Velasquez's inability so far to keep the Phillies in games.

With Velasquez, it just might always be this way. One event doesn't seem to have any bearing on the next for him. He can mow through three batters one inning and then completely lose his command and poise the next.

One good start, two good starts, even five good starts won't make the Phillies feel completely comfortable with Velasquez. They're always going to go into a start not knowing whether the bullpen will be needed for two innings or five. He's not the only guy in the majors like that, but he's certainly one of the more volatile starting pitchers in either league.

Velasquez has another chance to conquer the Mets, a swing-and-miss oriented team that he could completely dominate if his command is there. It's also a team that could have him on the ropes early with a three-run homer if he's not hitting spots.

Michael Conforto has done the most damage off Velasquez of any Met. He's 4 for 7 with two homers and a walk. Look for him to lead off.

Yoenis Cespedes is 2 for 6 with a double, a homer and five RBIs against Velasquez. All other active Mets are a combined 9 for 51 (.176) with two extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts.

2. Bullpen notes
The Phillies used five relievers last night but none of them should be unavailable for tonight's game. 

Joely Rodriguez, Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Joaquin Benoit combined to allow just one hit over five scoreless innings with five strikeouts and none of them threw more than 17 pitches.

The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.01 ERA through 13 games, which ranks 22nd among 30 teams. But keep in mind that includes disastrous outings from Adam Morgan, who was sent to Triple-A, and Jeanmar Gomez, who was demoted from the closer's role.

The key pieces in the Phils' bullpen -- Neris, Benoit, Ramos, Pat Neshek -- have been mostly effective. 

Neris has thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out nine and allowing three baserunners. He's picked up right where he left off in 2016.

Neshek has made six scoreless appearances and last week made Cespedes look silly. (Neshek went on paternity leave Wednesday and the Phillies will call up right-hander Ben Lively to have an extra arm, according to CSN's Jim Salisbury.)

Ramos is best known so far for the controversial pitch behind Asdrubal Cabrera's head last week, but he has a 2.84 ERA so far with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

And while Benoit did allow the game-winning three-run home run to Bryce Harper over the weekend in D.C., his other six appearances have been scoreless. I've long believed that "percentage of scoreless appearances" is a better stat for a reliever than ERA. One bad outing can skew a reliever's numbers for months, but if he gives up runs only once every seven appearances, he's doing his job.

3. Scouting Gsellman
The Phillies draw the weakest link in the Mets' rotation, 23-year-old right-hander Robert Gsellman (0-1, 9.28 ERA).

Gsellman wasn't a highly-touted prospect like Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom or Zack Wheeler, but he worked his way up to the majors in 2016 after posting strong seasons in the minor leagues the previous two. 

In eight appearances last season (seven starts), Gsellman went 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, striking out 42 batters in 44 2/3 innings and allowing just one home run.

He faced the Phillies three times as a rookie and won twice, beating them in each of his final two starts. In those games Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, Gsellman allowed one run in 13 innings and struck out 15 against a dead-in-the-water Phillies team.

Gsellman's main pitch is his sinker, which he's thrown 46 percent of the time this season but hasn't been able to command. Opponents are 8 for 22 this season against that pitch with a double and a homer.

He also has a four-seam fastball that averages 94 mph, a slider, curveball and changeup.

4. Any love for Altherr?
Aaron Altherr had his first career pinch-hit last night, an RBI single in the 10th inning to put the Phillies up two runs. 

With Howie Kendrick going on the 10-day DL Tuesday, Altherr should have some starting opportunities over the next week. Daniel Nava got the nod in left field Tuesday but look for Altherr to get the start tonight.

Through 13 games Altherr has just 13 at-bats (4 for 13 with a double and a homer). He had a powerful spring and is looking to put a lost 2016 behind him.

Altherr has a future in this organization, either as a starter or fourth outfielder. His defensive ability certainly helps his cause and right now he's probably the Phils' best defensive outfielder. The Phillies have seen too many weak throws from the outfield already this season from Kendrick and Odubel Herrera.

5. This and that
• Tuesday's game was only the second time in the last 11 meetings that the Mets did not homer off the Phillies.

• Phillies starting pitchers have just seven quality starts in their last 23 games against the Mets.

• The Mets' bullpen will get better when closer Jeurys Familia returns Thursday from a 15-game suspension, but New York is going to need to add relief help by the trade deadline to have a real chance of going deep into October. Right now, this bullpen is extremely unimpressive. It's just straight fastball after straight fastball from guys like Addison Reed and Rafael Montero, and Hansel Robles is capable of imploding on any given night. 

The Mets have strong starting pitching but with a leaky bullpen and such a boom-bust offense, it just doesn't feel like a team destined to go far in 2017 ... at least as presently constructed.

Best of MLB: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

Best of MLB: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

MILWAUKEE -- Eric Thames hit his major league-leading 11th home run -- his sixth against Cincinnati this season -- and the Milwaukee Brewers cruised to a 9-1 victory over the Reds on Tuesday night.

In his first season with the Brewers, Thames capped a five-run sixth with a two-run drive off reliever Robert Stephenson.

Hernan Perez had a pair of RBI triples, then homered off Stephenson leading off the sixth, and Jonathan Villar had a pair of two-run singles.

Zach Davies (2-2) allowed six hits in five scoreless innings, lowering his ERA from 8.24 to 6.57. He stranded a pair of runners in three innings (see full recap).

Keuchel tosses complete game in Astros' win over Indians
CLEVELAND -- Dallas Keuchel pitched a complete game to extend his promising start to the season and the Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians 4-2 Tuesday night even though Jose Altuve and Teoscar Hernandez left following a frightening collision in the eighth inning.

Altuve and Hernandez were chasing a popup in right field and stayed down for a while after. Altuve appeared to get hit near his chin by Hernandez's arm, but he walked off the field under his own power. Hernandez, called up from the minors before the game, was carted off the field with an injury to his left leg.

Keuchel (4-0) gave up solo homers to Austin Jackson in the third and Michael Brantley in the ninth. The left-hander, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, held Cleveland to six hits and has a 1.22 ERA.

Josh Tomlin (1-3) allowed three runs -- all in the fifth -- in six innings (see full recap).

Tigers score 9 in 9th to rout Mariners, 19-9
DETROIT -- James McCann, Justin Upton and Alex Avila homered for Detroit -- and that was before the Tigers added nine runs in the fifth inning en route to a 19-9 rout of the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.

Felix Hernandez (2-2) allowed four runs in two innings in his shortest outing since 2015, and Seattle's next two pitchers fared even worse. Detroit finished with 24 hits, 19 of which came in the first five innings. That was despite injuries that kept Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias out of the lineup.

Jordan Zimmermann (2-1) allowed five runs in six innings. Jean Segura, Danny Valencia and Nelson Cruz hit solo homers for Seattle, but that wasn't nearly enough to keep up with Detroit's offensive onslaught.

Mikie Mahtook added another home run for the Tigers in the eighth. Ian Kinsler had four hits and four runs before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time."

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay.

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it's always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he's pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don't think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

"In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. "He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup."

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too."

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

"That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

"I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here."