PHILADELPHIA — Vince Velasquez showed in a good way Thursday afternoon why he drives Phillies fans nuts.
The starting pitcher carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the Phillies beat the Colorado Rockies 9-3 before 22,500 fans at Citizens Bank Park.
Velasquez threw 105 pitches, struck out six and allowed two runs. He faced the minimum number of batters through six innings. Colorado shortstop Trevor Story broke up the no-hitter with a two-out RBI double in the top of the seventh.
Velasquez left the game after that hit to a standing ovation.
“Right from the beginning (Phillies catcher Andrew) Knapp and I were pretty much locked in,” Velasquez said. “That’s a big confidence booster right there when you have a guy who calls a good game, and you’re right on pace with him. I was pretty comfortable the whole way through.”
Just six days ago, Velasquez walked off the mound after the worst start of his career. He allowed nine hits and 10 runs to the Milwaukee Brewers in just 3.2 innings on June 8.
“You’ve got to learn from the last outing and not let it carry over,” Velasquez said. “Just keep moving forward and just make your adjustments.”
It’s Velasquez’s inconsistency that causes so many Phillies fans to throw their hands in the air when discussing the 26-year-old pitcher. He’s pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or less in just seven of 14 starts this season.
Some fans want to trade Velasquez. Others want to make him a reliever.
But performances like Thursday’s are why he continues to be a part of the starting rotation.
Velasquez mixed in a four-seam fastball that averaged 93.7 mph with a curveball and slider that averaged 81 and 84.4 mph, respectively. The difference in speeds kept Colorado hitters off balance and helped Velasquez get 13 swing-and-miss strikes.
Velasquez, who said he has never thrown a no-hitter as a professional, occasionally glanced at the scoreboard throughout the game and was aware of all the zeroes on it.
“It didn’t really phase me,” he said. “I had a job to do and that was keep on pitching.”
The Rockies began Thursday fifth in the 15-team National League in runs scored. The Phillies game plan called for Velasquez to pitch inside — something he didn’t do enough against the Brewers. Velasquez trusted Knapp, throwing inside whenever the catcher called for it.
“I think we’ve built a relationship where Vince gives me the reins to go out and think for him,” Knapp said. “We went inside a couple of times, brushed some guys off the plate a little bit and that opened up some stuff for us.”
But it wasn’t just the way Velasquez threw his pitches that impressed his teammates. Equally important was the way he carried himself on the mound.
“That was the best I’ve seen him battle,” Knapp said. “His stuff has probably been better in the past. It’s always electric. But for him to go out and have the poise on the mound to put pitches against that lineup, that was really cool to watch.”
In addition to Velasquez’s bounce-back effort, the Phillies offense also rebounded. Philadelphia finished with 13 hits — the first time the team reached double digits since a 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 29. Rhys Hoskins was the offensive star with a home run, an RBI double, and an RBI single.
“We know it’s in there,” Hoskins said. “We know we can do (this) every time out. I think guys’ confidence in here is starting to grow a lot, especially after the last couple of weeks.”
With Thursday’s victory, the Phillies won two of three games from the Rockies and earned a much-needed series win. Philadelphia had not won a series since it took two of three games from the Atlanta Braves on May 21-23.
The Phillies are now halfway through a month that will go a long way toward determining what type of season they will have.
Philadelphia (35-31) only trails the first-place Atlanta Braves by 3.5 games in the National League East. But the Phillies are 4-8 in June and the rest of their opponents this month — the Milwaukee Brewers (41-27); St. Louis Cardinals (36-30); Washington Nationals (37-28); and New York Yankees (43-20) – are all playoff contenders.
The Phillies need the Velasquez who pitched Thursday to successfully navigate the rest of this month and the season.
“What was most notable for me,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, was how comfortable (Velasquez) looked in his own skin (Thursday). “It was a breath of fresh air. I think when things aren’t going that smoothly for him if he can maintain that composure, maintain that easiness and maintain that confidence, that’s when he’s going to reach his true potential.”