The host Cincinnati Reds dumped the Philadelphia Phillies by a 6-4 final score on Friday night at Great American Ball Park.
With the win, the Reds have managed a split of the first two games of this four-game long weekend series with the Phillies.
Despite the defeat, the Phillies remain 2.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division standings. The Braves were shut down at home by Clayton Kershaw on Friday, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In gaining the split to this point in the series, the Reds have faced the bottom of the Phillies pitching rotation options. On Thursday night the Phils dipped into their minor league depth for Ranger Suarez. The lefty made his big league debut a winning one.
Last night it was the struggling Nick Pivetta who suffered the loss. Pivetta has been a true head-scratcher this season. There is no question about his stuff. After striking out a dozen Reds batters on Friday night, he now possesses a tremendous 134/32 K:BB ratio over 107.2 innings.
However, Pivetta also surrendered a pair of home runs which resulted in five earned runs scored against him. That lifted his ERA on the season to the 4.85 mark in what was his second straight poor outing since the MLB All-Star Game break.
With those two back-end starting pitching efforts in the rear-view mirror and the club still in first place, these next two games to end the weekend series become pivotal for the Phillies.
Saturday’s match-up will feature a pair of interesting pitchers taking the mound. For the Phillies it will be Vince Velasquez looking to extend what has been the most successful string of starts in his career. The Reds send out Matt Harvey, who moved to Cincinnati and has been largely effective after being dumped by the New York Mets.
Velasquez has pitched into the sixth inning in nine of his last 12 starts and has gotten to the seventh inning on five occasions during that period. He has allowed just 49 hits over 67.1 innings with an 80/24 K:BB ratio during that time.
The knock on Velasquez over the first few years of his career was that he couldn’t get deep into his starts. If this recent stretch of performances is indicative of what’s to come, the 26-year-old will silence those who have felt that his best role would come with a move to the bullpen.
“That was as good as he’s been all year. The tempo, the pace and the energy levels were right on. It’s the combination of keeping his rhythm and his pace but not losing control of his body…When he gets runners on base, he’s done a really good job of holding runners on…he does a great job holding the baseball. As a runner at first base, you have difficulty timing your jumps and before you know it, your body shuts down naturally. Across the board, I think he’s been an exceptional athlete for us on the mound.”
For the series finale on Sunday it will be Zach Eflin taking the mound for the Phillies. Though his overall numbers look fine, Eflin struggled mightily in his most recent outing this past Monday night. The Dodgers got to him for three home runs, knocking him out in the third inning.
Eflin had been bothered by a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand prior to the all-star break. That poor performance against the Dodgers marked just his second start in nearly three weeks. This will be an important opportunity for the 24-year-old right-hander to show that he is healthy, and that the club can count on him down the stretch.
Following a big month of June, Eflin was quoted by Matt Breen of Philly.com on his emergence: “I always felt that I belonged here regardless of how I had thrown. That’s the feeling I always had. But to go out there and put up a very good month is definitely rewarding.”
To this point, the Phillies have not made a deal to bring in a more veteran arm to help the pitching rotation. Cole Hamels went to the Chicago Cubs. J.A. Happ went to the New York Yankees. With just days to go before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, there have still been rumors linking the club with Chris Archer.
Whether or not Matt Klentak makes a move to bolster that rotation, the performances of both Velasquez and Eflin over the next two months are likely to be keys for this young Phillies ball club. It begins as this weekend ends, with the team a winner once again, and two emerging starting pitchers trying to help keep it that way.
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