QUEENS — Fingertips were frozen. Toes were numb. Breath was visible.
But Vincent Velasquez‘s fastball was scorching hot, fueling the Phillies’ first win of the season, a 1-0 shutout of the Mets on a 35-degree Saturday night at Citi Field.
After an arduous first inning of more than 20 pitches, two baserunners and spotty command, Velasquez settled into a groove, spotting his sweet speedball and making Mets hitters swing a little too late. In total the premiere acquisition in the Ken Giles trade pitched six innings, struck out nine, walked three and surrendered just two hits. He was superb, a welcomed first Phillies start for the right-hander.
His only support came in the fifth inning. Leading off the inning and catching a Bartolo Colon changeup, Ryan Howard swatted a shot into the fourth row in left field, his second home run of the young season. Boy was it needed – otherwise the Phillies had trouble even starting rallies, at least until the ninth inning.
In the top half of that frame the troika of Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco singled. Howard had an opportunity to break the game wide open with one out, but dutifully struck out against the slider of Jeurys Familia. Of course, the Phillies could’ve had insurance, but Hernandez stalled on Franco’s weak infield grounder, a play on which he could’ve easily scored.
With the Phils only managing one run they relied on their bullpen, which hadn’t yet proved capable of holding a place in line let alone a one-run lead. Yet the combination of Hector Neris, Daniel Stumpf, David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did just that, slicing up the Mets while keeping them relatively off balance in three innings of work. Most impressive was Neris, who showed plenty of life on his pitches in striking out one (he also walked one). Hernandez worked deep counts but dug in, striking out two including Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda.
Peter Bourjos struck a double, and both Hernandez and Cameron Rupp collected two hits in the win. The Phillies meet the Mets in a rubber match at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Phils will bring Jeremy Hellickson (1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA) to the party; the Metropolitans will counter with Matt Harvey (0-1, 4.76 ERA).