WASHINGTON - Vince Velasquez got a big piece of good news about two hours before game-time Saturday.
Ryan Zimmerman, who is 4 for 9 against him with a homer, double and two walks, was scratched with side stiffness.
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It meant the Nationals' red-hot lineup, even after the return of Anthony Rendon, wouldn't be as imposing.
Sure, a 1-4 of Bryce Harper, Rendon, Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick is good enough to beat you, but the Nationals' 5-9 hitters Saturday were Andrew Stevenson, Pedro Severino, Rafael Bautista, Tanner Roark and Wilmer Difo.
You're forgiven if you've never heard of four of those guys. That bottom of the order was more like a Triple A lineup than a fearsome major-league lineup.
And Velasquez was able to take advantage in an important game for both him and the Phillies. The Phils won, 3-1, limiting the Nats to two hits and positioning themselves for a series win Sunday when Jake Arrieta opposes Max Scherzer (see story).
"Once I found out [Zimmerman] was out, I was a little bit shocked," Velasquez admitted. "I mean, every time we face them he's always in the lineup against me. So we kind of changed up the game plan a little bit, but again we had a plan of attack and executed it the way we wanted it."
Facing an inexperienced group after the Nationals' first four hitters, Velasquez was able to rear back and attack. It helped that he was finally able to conquer the beast that is Harper, retiring him three times after Harper had previously gone 5 for 6 against him with a double, homer and two walks.
Velasquez allowed just one hit over five innings, a solo homer, walking four and striking out four.
This was Velasquez's 46th start as a Phillie. In two of them, he exited after an inning with an injury. So for all intents and purposes, he has made 44 starts. In 22 of them, exactly half, he has pitched well - games ranging from quality start to dominance.
So pretty much half the time, the Phillies know they'll get the good Velasquez.
Gabe Kapler saw a different attitude from his sometimes electric, often inconsistent right-hander.
"One of the things I noticed about Vinny today was a little bit calmer demeanor," Kapler said. "He's a pretty hyped-up guy. Seems like there's a lot of adrenaline going for Vinny most of the time. I don't think today was different, but I do think there was a little bit turned down. It was a little bit subdued, a little bit more calmed down, a little bit more natural."
Velasquez's next start comes Thursday afternoon against a weak Giants offense. It should provide him the opportunity to make it back-to-back successful starts.
Hey, he's just glad to have a respite from the Braves.