Phillies-Mets 5 Things: Vince Velasquez Could Sure Use a Confidence Boost

Phillies at Mets
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One win won't change the momentum in this divisional series owned by the Mets since 2014, but it had to feel good for Pete Mackanin and the boys to execute down the stretch against a team that's usually comfortably ahead in the later innings.

Tuesday's game was U-G-L-Y in all phases. Bad defense, dropped throws, boneheaded baserunning, pitchers constantly falling behind hitters. The Mets looked lifeless, for whatever reason. Maybe they left their mojo in Miami.

Here's a look at the middle game of the series:

1. Third time's the charm?
Vince Velasquez's first two starts have not gone well.

He's lasted just nine total innings and given up nine runs, needing 194 pitches to record 27 outs. A rate of 21.6 pitches per inning won't work for anyone and Velasquez knows it.

He was his own harshest critic last Wednesday night in the Phillies' clubhouse after he allowed five runs and walked four Mets in five innings. He has 17 strikeouts in those nine innings, but that's secondary to the quick exits and Velasquez's inability so far to keep the Phillies in games.

With Velasquez, it just might always be this way. One event doesn't seem to have any bearing on the next for him. He can mow through three batters one inning and then completely lose his command and poise the next.

One good start, two good starts, even five good starts won't make the Phillies feel completely comfortable with Velasquez. They're always going to go into a start not knowing whether the bullpen will be needed for two innings or five. He's not the only guy in the majors like that, but he's certainly one of the more volatile starting pitchers in either league.

Velasquez has another chance to conquer the Mets, a swing-and-miss oriented team that he could completely dominate if his command is there. It's also a team that could have him on the ropes early with a three-run homer if he's not hitting spots.

Michael Conforto has done the most damage off Velasquez of any Met. He's 4 for 7 with two homers and a walk. Look for him to lead off.

Yoenis Cespedes is 2 for 6 with a double, a homer and five RBIs against Velasquez. All other active Mets are a combined 9 for 51 (.176) with two extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts.

2. Bullpen notes
The Phillies used five relievers last night but none of them should be unavailable for tonight's game. 

Joely Rodriguez, Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Joaquin Benoit combined to allow just one hit over five scoreless innings with five strikeouts and none of them threw more than 17 pitches.

The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.01 ERA through 13 games, which ranks 22nd among 30 teams. But keep in mind that includes disastrous outings from Adam Morgan, who was sent to Triple A, and Jeanmar Gomez, who was demoted from the closer's role.

The key pieces in the Phils' bullpen -- Neris, Benoit, Ramos, Pat Neshek -- have been mostly effective. 

Neris has thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out nine and allowing three baserunners. He's picked up right where he left off in 2016.

Neshek has made six scoreless appearances and last week made Cespedes look silly. (Neshek went on paternity leave Wednesday and the Phillies will call up right-hander Ben Lively to have an extra arm, according to CSN's Jim Salisbury.)

Ramos is best known so far for the controversial pitch behind Asdrubal Cabrera's head last week, but he has a 2.84 ERA so far with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

And while Benoit did allow the game-winning three-run home run to Bryce Harper over the weekend in D.C., his other six appearances have been scoreless. I've long believed that "percentage of scoreless appearances" is a better stat for a reliever than ERA. One bad outing can skew a reliever's numbers for months, but if he gives up runs only once every seven appearances, he's doing his job.

3. Scouting Gsellman
The Phillies draw the weakest link in the Mets' rotation, 23-year-old right-hander Robert Gsellman (0-1, 9.28 ERA).

Gsellman wasn't a highly-touted prospect like Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom or Zack Wheeler, but he worked his way up to the majors in 2016 after posting strong seasons in the minor leagues the previous two. 

In eight appearances last season (seven starts), Gsellman went 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, striking out 42 batters in 44 2/3 innings and allowing just one home run.

He faced the Phillies three times as a rookie and won twice, beating them in each of his final two starts. In those games Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, Gsellman allowed one run in 13 innings and struck out 15 against a dead-in-the-water Phillies team.

Gsellman's main pitch is his sinker, which he's thrown 46 percent of the time this season but hasn't been able to command. Opponents are 8 for 22 this season against that pitch with a double and a homer.

He also has a four-seam fastball that averages 94 mph, a slider, curveball and changeup.

4. Any love for Altherr?
Aaron Altherr had his first career pinch-hit last night, an RBI single in the 10th inning to put the Phillies up two runs. 

With Howie Kendrick going on the 10-day DL Tuesday, Altherr should have some starting opportunities over the next week. Daniel Nava got the nod in left field Tuesday but look for Altherr to get the start tonight.

Through 13 games Altherr has just 13 at-bats (4 for 13 with a double and a homer). He had a powerful spring and is looking to put a lost 2016 behind him.

Altherr has a future in this organization, either as a starter or fourth outfielder. His defensive ability certainly helps his cause and right now he's probably the Phils' best defensive outfielder. The Phillies have seen too many weak throws from the outfield already this season from Kendrick and Odubel Herrera.

5. This and that
• Tuesday's game was only the second time in the last 11 meetings that the Mets did not homer off the Phillies.

• Phillies starting pitchers have just seven quality starts in their last 23 games against the Mets.

• The Mets' bullpen will get better when closer Jeurys Familia returns Thursday from a 15-game suspension, but New York is going to need to add relief help by the trade deadline to have a real chance of going deep into October. Right now, this bullpen is extremely unimpressive. It's just straight fastball after straight fastball from guys like Addison Reed and Rafael Montero, and Hansel Robles is capable of imploding on any given night. 

The Mets have strong starting pitching but with a leaky bullpen and such a boom-bust offense, it just doesn't feel like a team destined to go far in 2017 ... at least as presently constructed.

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