ST. LOUIS - Could we be witnessing the moment Phillies officials have long been waiting for? Could we be witnessing Vince Velasquez finally putting it all together and becoming a quality big-league starter?
There is evidence that suggests we are.
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The talented but inconsistent right-hander delivered his third straight strong start in helping the sizzling Phillies beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-2, in the first of a four-game series Thursday night (see first take). Velasquez pitched 6⅓ shutout innings, allowed five hits, two walks and struck out five. He has won all three of his starts this month and allowed just four runs in 17⅓ innings.
Velasquez has been particularly good in his last two outings. He survived two early home runs en route to six innings and 12 strikeouts in a win over the San Francisco Giants last week. On Thursday night, "He held down a pretty good, experienced lineup," manager Gabe Kapler said.
Less than a month before his 26th birthday, Velasquez seems to be maturing. Keeping his emotions in check when things go wrong on the mound has been a consistent challenge for Velasquez. But lately, he has shown remarkable poise on the mound.
"I feel more controlled and composed - just having a different mentality going into the game," he said. "I told you guys that last week. I just felt like I was going into more of a comfort zone of mine and that's something you have to have and cherish and build on. A lot of obstacles get thrown at you and you have to learn how to adjust. That's the whole part of this game, making adjustments. It seems like things are turning around, but there's still room for improvement."
Velasquez's improvement might simply come down to a desire to keep up with the rest of the starting staff. It has been good all season and great lately. Over the last 10 games, the starting pitchers have a major-league-best 1.16 ERA - eight earned runs in 62⅓ innings.
"We're all doing our part and it's a big motivation," Velasquez said. "It's fun to watch."
Carlos Santana clubbed a solo homer in the fifth to give Velasquez a 1-0 lead and the bullpen was able to hold the Cardinals off in the late innings. In particular, rookie Seranthony Dominguez got two huge outs with runners in scoring position in a one-run game in the seventh. Dominguez has allowed just one base runner - a hit batsman - in 4⅔ innings over his first five appearances.
"He's a guy we feel confident in," Kapler said. "He's been just as advertised. Big arm. Really composed. He's so calm and relaxed."
And he throws 98 with a sharp slider.
The Phillies are a half-game out of first place in the NL East. They are nine games over .500 at 25-16. They are 24-12 since their 1-4 start. The Phils have won eight of their last 10 games. Only a pair of ninth-inning blown saves stand between them and 10 straight wins.
"I just notice that we're playing well," Kapler said. "We're playing good baseball and we're getting contributions from all areas of our club."
Jake Arrieta gets the ball Friday night.