Phillies-Rockies 5 Things: 2 Hard-throwing Strikeout Pitchers Square Off

Phillies (40-47) at Rockies (39-46)
8:10 p.m. on CSN

Only one offense showed up last night in Coors Field and it was the Rockies' in an 11-2 Phillies loss. The Phils were shut down by Chad Bettis for the third straight time and the second time in Denver, which is confusing because Bettis has a career ERA of 6.37 at home.

The series continues tonight as the Phils look to get even:

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1. Velasquez's turn
Vince Velasquez makes his third start since returning from the DL. His first two were impressive: five shutout innings in Arizona, two runs allowed in six innings against the Royals. Velasquez struck out seven batters in each game, giving him 87 in 72⅔ innings this season.

In 128⅓ career innings, Velasquez has an impressive 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.2 walks. Those kind of numbers should play at Coors Field. For years, the Rockies attempted to load up on groundball pitchers, thinking they had the best chance at success in a ballpark so conducive to extra-base hits. But it hasn't really worked. In reality, the skill set most suited for Coors Field is one that involves missing bats. Velasquez does just that. The fewer balls in play, the better.

Velasquez (7-2, 3.34) has never pitched in Colorado, but he did face the Rockies early last season, allowing five runs in 4⅔ innings. Carlos Gonzalez took him deep.

The key for Velasquez tonight is getting ahead in counts. First-pitch strikes are imperative because if you fall behind a talented offense in that ballpark, look out.

2. Franco, Bourjos stay hot
The Phillies scored just two runs on Thursday, but four different players had multi-hit games: Maikel Franco, Peter Bourjos, Ryan Howard and Freddy Galvis. Howard's solo homer and RBI single accounted for both runs.

Franco was 2 for 4 with a double, extending his extra-base hit streak to five games. He has seven XBH (five homers, two doubles) in his last nine games to boost his OPS to .805. 

Bourjos, too, has been a power threat lately with 12 extra-base hits in his last 85 plate appearances. He's hit .447 over that span.

Bourjos' offensive emergence has drastically improved the Phillies' lineup because they now have two capable bats atop the lineup. Bourjos and Odubel Herrera have done an excellent job the last two weeks of setting the table for Cody Asche and Franco.

3. Gray day
The Phillies face 24-year-old right-hander Jon Gray, the Rockies' best pitcher and the one they're most excited about. Gray, the third overall pick in 2013, is 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA this season, but he's been better than that. He's struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings, and his 1.20 WHIP is usually associated with an ERA in the mid-3.00s. Gray has three double-digit strikeout games this season (10, 11 and 12).

Despite the high ERA, Gray actually has nine quality starts in 14 tries. Two poor starts against the Pirates and Cardinals (15 runs in seven innings combined) inflated his numbers. 

Gray (6-4/235) has thrown his four-seam fastball or slider 76 percent of the time this season. He also has a curveball, slider and changeup. He brings the heat, averaging better than 96 mph with his fastball.

Gray has never faced the Phillies.

4. Story time
Rockies rookie shortstop Trevor Story really wants to win that Final Vote for the All-Star Game, huh? Story went deep twice last night off Adam Morgan and both were tattooed, going 442 and 446 feet.

Story is the rare case of a player who wasn't highly touted sustaining an early-season surge. How often do you see a random player take off when he first arrives in the majors and then disappear? Players who come to mind are Tyler White (Astros) and Jeremy Hazelbaker (Cardinals) this season, Brennan Boesch with the Tigers in 2010, Ike Davis once upon a time with the Mets. There are many other examples of players starting out hot and then being figured out.

That hasn't happened with Story. After breaking out with 10 home runs in April, Story has held his ground, hitting .260 with 11 homers, 35 RBIs and an .820 OPS since May 1. He does lead the NL with 109 strikeouts, though.

5. This and that
• Rockies 2B D.J. Lemahieu never gets as much attention as CarGo or Nolan Arenado, but he's quietly been one of the game's best hitters and is a major reason Charlie Blackmon's scored so many runs and Arenado has so many RBIs. Only Daniel Murphy (.346) has a higher batting average than Lemahieu's .336. He's hit .388 at Coors Field this season.

• Good to see David Hernandez pitch a clean inning with two strikeouts last night. He's been struggling for weeks, allowing 13 runs in his previous 10 appearances for a 10.97 ERA.

• The Phillies are 3-7 in their last 10 games at Coors Field.

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