Phillies see the two sides of Vince Velasquez in home-opening loss to Nationals

Phillies see the two sides of Vince Velasquez in home-opening loss to Nationals

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The two sides of Vince Velasquez -- alternately fascinating and frustrating -- were on display in the Phillies' home opener Friday.

There was all that potential, the electric right arm and the crackling fastball, warming up a cold day with 10 strikeouts.

But there was also the maddening inconsistency and the inability to economize pitches and locate them precisely in big situations.

The Phillies provided some entertainment in their first game of the new season at Citizens Bank Park when they scored six unanswered runs in the late innings to nearly erase a big deficit against the Washington Nationals. In the end, however, their comeback came up short and they suffered a 7-6 loss to fall to 1-3 after four games (see Instant Replay).

There were plenty of ifs and buts in this one, but when it was over, Velasquez put the loss on himself.

"It was just a lack of performance on my end," he said. "It's frustrating to have a show like that at the end and not come out on top because of my performance."

The "show" that Velasquez spoke about was the six runs the Phillies scored in the final four innings, the outburst highlighted by Aaron Altherr's two-run homer in the seventh and Freddy Galvis' two-run homer in the ninth.

The "lack of performance" that he spoke about was his own work. Yeah, his rocket arm produced 10 strikeouts. But his lack of command caused his pitch count to swell to 94 and he didn't make it past the fourth inning. And in those four innings, he gave up a pair of two-run home runs.

Bryce Harper got him on a full-count changeup in the first inning. Daniel Murphy got him on a 2-2 fastball in the third inning.

On both occasions, there was a man on base via a walk.

And both times, Velasquez missed his spot with a pitch.

The changeup to Harper was thigh-high on the inner half of the plate.

The fastball to Murphy was right down the middle.

"If the changeup to Harper was on the outside of the plate, it might have been a different result," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Velasquez had been up on Murphy, 0-2, but could not put him away.

"Murphy is just a great hitter," Velasquez said. "It's hard to get that guy out. That fastball was right over the middle. I was all over the place. I couldn't command my fastball."

All of the Nationals' seven runs came on homers. Joely Rodriguez came in for Velasquez in the fifth and gave up a three-run homer to Jayson Werth (more on him here). It was Werth's 101st homer as a National and his 20th against his old team and it gave his club and 2016 NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer a 7-0 lead.

Going to the bullpen in the fifth inning is just too early, but in this case, it was a necessity.

"It's very frustrating giving up two home runs the first few innings and not giving your guys an opportunity to come out on top," Velasquez said. "I give our guys credit for battling the way they did, but I need to go deeper into the game."

Velasquez is 24 and still a developing pitcher on a developing team. It would be worth filing this performance -- the good and the bad -- to see if he grows from it down the road. It could end up being a learning experience.

"He knows what he has to do, but it doesn't come overnight," Mackanin said.

Scherzer -- 8-1 lifetime against the Phillies -- gave up just two runs over 6 2/3 innings. The Phillies scored four times against the Nats' bullpen and might have had more if Brock Stassi hadn't been nailed trying to move up to third on a ball to the backstop in the seventh. The ball shot hard off the backstop allowing Washington catcher Matt Wieters to catch it and fire to third to get Stassi. Mackanin absolved Stassi of any blame.

"Galvis, after the inning, was like, 'I've been playing here for however many years and that's the first time I've seen that happen,'" Stassi said. "I was like, 'Hmm. Figures it happens to me on my first game here.'"

In the eighth, the Phils got the first two men aboard then went down quietly against reliever Koda Glover.

Tommy Joseph popped out to end that threat. He has started off the season 0 for 13. Maikel Franco is 2 for 16 and Michael Saunders is 1 for 10.

Meanwhile, Odubel Herrera is 6 for 14 and Howie Kendrick is 5 for 13 (more on Herrera here).

So there is some good and some bad. Sort of like Velasquez's outing Friday.

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Nola is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday, but that's not going to happen.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Saturday indicated that the pitcher's recovery from a lower back strain was not going as smoothly as hoped.

Did Nola experience a setback?

"If you want to call it that," Mackanin said.

Nola threw a bullpen session on Friday and, according to Mackanin, did not bounce back as well as hoped.

"After he completed it, he had some symptoms, some soreness or tightness, I guess," Mackanin said. "It was decided he will not make his start on Monday. He will be reevaluated to determine his next bullpen.

"A couple of days ago he said he felt great and then [Friday] not so great. He's improving but he's not 100 percent. There's something bugging him. We're just going to take it day to day. We're being cautious with him this early in the season."

Nola experienced soreness in his lower back after his last start, April 20 against the Mets. The Phils have been filling the opening on their pitching staff with reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Nick Pivetta will be activated on Sunday and make his major-league debut with a start against the Dodgers.

Kendrick works at first base
First baseman Tommy Joseph and catcher Cameron Rupp, both hitting under .200, were not in the starting lineup on Saturday night as Mackanin went heavy on lefty hitters against Dodgers' righty Brandon McCarthy.

Mackanin stressed that he doesn't like to make judgments on hitters until they get around the 100 at-bat mark — Joseph has 63; Rupp 50 — but it's worth noting that first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher Jorge Alfaro are both off to hot starts at Triple A and could be eventual replacements if the club looks for more production.

There also could be another option brewing at first base.

Howie Kendrick has worked at first base during batting practice the last two days. On Friday, he merely tracked balls off the bat and worked on first-step breaks. He did so with a regular fielder's glove.

But on Saturday, Kendrick brought his first baseman's mitt to the field. He took some groundballs and throws from across the diamond.

This stuff doesn't happen just by accident.

Over an 11-season career, Kendrick has played in 89 games at first base. He opened the season as the Phillies' leftfielder and hit .333 (13 for 39) with an .883 OPS before suffering an oblique injury two weeks ago in Washington. Kendrick probably needs at least another week of recovery time before coming off the disabled list, but it's now reasonable to wonder if he will go back to left field or get time at first base when he returns. Using Kendrick at first would allow the Phillies to keep Aaron Altherr's bat in the lineup in left field.

Joseph can have a say in all this if he gets his bat going. He is hitting .190 (12 for 63) with just a .505 OPS.

Last May, it was Joseph who earned his way to the majors after his hot start in Triple A coincided with Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf struggling in the majors. Joseph got 347 plate appearances in the majors last season and hit .257 with 21 homers, 47 RBIs and a .813 OPS.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both struggling mightily through the first month of the season, will get Saturday night off when the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Joseph is hitting .190 with one homer and 18 strikeouts in 18 games, while Rupp is batting .180 with one homer and 20 strikeouts through 15 games. Last season, Joseph had 21 home runs and Rupp 16.

Brock Stassi will spell Joseph at first base and bat seventh. Andrew Knapp takes over for Rupp behind the plate and will bat eighth.

Daniel Nava also receives a start, playing left field. The first-year Phillie is hitting .346 with a pair of homers and as many walks as strikeouts (seven).

Zach Eflin takes the mound in a meaningful start for the right-hander (see story). He opposes resurgent Dodgers righty Brandon McCarthy (see game notes).

Here are tonight's lineups:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

Dodgers
1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Cody Bellinger, LF
7. Chase Utley, 2B
8. Chris Taylor, 3B
9. Brandon McCarthy, P