Vincent Velasquez rifled one last fastball through the strike zone. His 113th pitch of this perfect spring afternoon sailed right past Wil Myers‘ swinging bat and into the glove of catcher Cameron Rupp.
And then Velasquez, upon finishing his afternoon, raised his arms in exaltation, screamed, and performed a wild fist pump as the crowd cheered around him.
Over nine innings the 23-year-old acquired in the Ken Giles trade was beyond superb. He peppered his fastball all over the strike zone, mixed in a curveball that improved as the afternoon progressed, and kept Padres hitters guessing and missing until the very last pitch. In total Velasquez struck out 16 hitters, surrendered just three hits and walked none. Of his 113 pitches, 83 were strikes. He seemed to get better as the game wore on, pumping his fastball at 97 in the ninth inning. Nothing slowed him. Nothing stopped him.
For the first time in years Phillies fans have a heat-tossing machine that can dominate a ballgame. And on this afternoon, wearing bright red jerseys no less, the team put on its most exciting contest in a long time.
The Phillies won the game 3-0. Velasquez was the star, the sun, the universe. He demanded focus in a sparsely filled Citizens Bank Park. But he was aided by veterans like Ryan Howard – who swatted a home run in the second inning, and produced a second run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning – and Andres Blanco – who struck a big double in the seventh, which led to the final run of the game. Odubel Herrera also contributed, walking thrice, stealing a bag and scoring on Howard’s sacrifice. He brought plenty of energy, too. But the team didn’t really need it.
Velasquez was the energy, firing a mid-90s fastball consistently in the zone and slowly mixing in breaking offerings like a curve and slider. Even the changeup showed up a couple times. But the Padres couldn’t hit anything, only garnering two singles in the second, and one in the fifth. That was it. Velasquez finished with a game score of 97; last season that number was achieved only nine times (Max Scherzer thrice including two no-hitters, Cole Hamels‘ no hitter, Carlos Carrasco, Jake Arrieta‘s no-hitter, Corey Kluber, Chris Heston‘s no-hitter, Clayton Kershaw). He now leads the major leagues in strikeouts (25).
After winning the four-game set over the Padres 3-1, the Phillies are now 5-5, second place in the National League East, and will host division-leading Washington starting Friday night.