Phillies-Rockies 5 Things: Tough Night Expected for Vince Velasquez

Phillies (39-67) at Rockies (62-47)
8:40 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After being swept in Anaheim, the Phillies head to Denver to open a challenging three-game series with the Colorado Rockies. They won't have to deal with a designated hitter in this series but it figures to be even tougher on the Phillies' pitching staff.

1. Rockies rollin'
Winners of four of six and 10 of 16, the Rockies have a pretty good hold on a wild-card spot. They trail the Diamondbacks by a half-game for the top wild-card spot, but they're 5½ games ahead of the Brewers for that final National League playoff position.

Philadelphia Phillies

Complete coverage of the Fightin' Phils and their MLB rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.

40 Years Ago, the Pain Vanished and Phillies Fans Finally Celebrated

Phillies Pitching Coach Bryan Price Retires

The Rockies, per usual, have been much better at Coors Field (33-20) than on the road (29-27). 

Colorado only lengthened its lineup at the trade deadline with the acquisition of catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who was not having a good season in Texas but is still one of the best backstops in baseball, offensively and defensively. When Lucroy is batting eighth, you know your lineup is pretty damn good.

Centerfielder Charlie Blackmon and third baseman Nolan Arenado are each having MVP-caliber seasons. Blackmon is hitting .330 with a .990 OPS, 25 homers, 71 RBIs and an NL-leading 97 runs scored. Arenado is hitting .317 with a .961 OPS, 34 doubles, 24 homers and 96 RBIs. He's on pace to finish with 36 homers and 143 RBIs.

Arenado's numbers with runners in scoring position are insane. He's 47 for 106 (.443) with a .504 OBP and 25 extra-base hits.

There's much more to worry about than just Blackmon and Arenado, though. 

Two-hole hitter D.J. LeMahieu, the 2016 batting champion, is hitting .323. 

Outfielder/first baseman Gerardo Parra is hitting .414 at Coors Field this season and .479 with 15 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs in his last 25 starts overall. 

First baseman Mark Reynolds is having a career year, batting .284/.370/.522 with 23 homers.

Even Carlos Gonzalez, who's slumped nearly the entire season, has picked it up of late, hitting .298 over his last dozen games.

Good luck this weekend to Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Aaron Nola.

2. Big start for Vinny Velo
Velasquez is coming off his best start of the season - seven shutout innings against the Braves. The only other time in his career he pitched at least seven scoreless innings was his 16-strikeout shutout last April against the Padres.

Velasquez has been efficient in two of his three starts since returning from the disabled list on July 18. In Miami, he allowed one earned run over six innings on 79 pitches. Against the Braves last weekend, he faced the minimum in four of seven innings.

Velasquez said after his last start that he had to "humble" himself while on the DL. He was insinuating that his "ego is high" because of his big fastball but that he's needed to learn how to become more of a pitcher than a thrower, specifically in high-pressure situations. 

In his last start, Velasquez threw 24 curveballs, the most he's thrown in any game since that shutout of the Padres on April 14, 2016.

Thing is, curveballs don't always work at the altitude of Coors Field. They can become more loopy, and a hanger against this Rockies lineup is a good bet to get hammered. So this might be another night you see 60 to 70 fastballs from Velasquez.

Velasquez started a game at Coors Field last season and actually fared well, allowing two runs over six innings - since 2013, the only other Phillies to do so at Coors were Zach Eflin and Cole Hamels.

Velasquez also faced these Rockies on May 25 at home and allowed one run on eight hits over five innings in a Phillies win. Despite his relative successes against Colorado, current Rockies hitters are 22 for 53 (.415) against him with six doubles and two homers. 

Gonzalez is 5 for 9 off Velasquez with two doubles and a homer. Arenado is 2 for 6 with two walks. Blackmon is 3 for 8, all singles.

3. Ideal venue for Williams
Nick Williams' speed and ability to drive the ball to the opposite field should play well at Coors Field, where he may end up with a triple or two this weekend.

Williams broke out of a mini-slump on Thursday by going 3 for 4 with two doubles and a two-run homer at Angel Stadium. He's hitting .294/.333/.559 with six doubles, three triples, five home runs and 21 RBIs in 27 games. 

Williams' 14 extra-base hits are the most by any Phillie in his first 27 games since Don Hurst in 1928.

The Phillies face a left-hander tonight in Kyle Freeland but Williams will still be hard to sit. He's held his own so far against southpaws, going 4 for 17 (.235) with a triple and two homers.

4. Scouting Freeland
Freeland, who was taken a spot after Aaron Nola in the 2014 draft, has been the Rockies' best starting pitcher in 2017.

The 24-year-old rookie is 11-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 21 games (20 starts). He's struck out 5.6 batters per nine and walked 3.3, but groundballs have saved him. Freeland has a groundball rate of 56 percent, which ranks fifth in the majors behind only Marcus Stroman, Clayton Richard, teammate Tyler Chatwood and Mike Leake.

Freeland has induced 13 double plays this season, which would lead the Phillies' staff.

Freeland has five pitches but mostly utilizes a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and cutter. He also has a slider and changeup he's thrown a combined 15 percent of the time. 

Surprisingly, Freeland's ERA is a full run lower at home (3.21) than on the road (4.22). He's allowed just five home runs in 61⅔ innings at Coors Field.

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 3 for 25 with runners in scoring position in the Angels series. They rank last in the National League in batting average (.237), OBP (.308) and slugging percentage (.384) with RISP.

• The Phillies haven't won a series at Coors Field since 2012. They've split four-game series there the last two seasons.

• The Rockies have hit .304/.358/.512 at home. Their opponents have hit .278/.348/.466.

Copyright CSNPhily
Contact Us