The Phillies did the thing. They won a game of baseball and the bullpen had a non-deleterious role in it.
While the bullpen's performance was conspicuous in its not-awfulness, Vincent Velasquez's Phillies debut was the really story here. He pitched six innings and gave up precisely zero runs. That's cool. He also got nine strikeouts. Also cool. He only walked three. Sort of cool. We can quibble with his efficiency. He had trouble finding the strike zone early in the game--that may have been the result of a small strike zone--and used too many pitches to get through the first couple frames. But that's quibbling.
In a Cole Hamels-less world, we lust for pleasant pitching. That's what Vinny delivered tonight. Sure, his command was lacking, especially in the early innings - so the downside of that was that he only was able to last six innings and not nine. But he gave us all enough curveballs and well-placed two-seamers to make such details immaterial. Vince Velasquez, as the only strikeout pitcher on the Phillies, holds the keys to my heart. After tonight, I won't soon be giving copies to anyone else.
Despite Velasquez's incredible debut, this game never felt like a win until the very end.
For one, the Phillies only scored one run: A 5th inning home run to left-center field by Ryan Howard. The last time Ryan Howard homered off Bartolo Colon was on June 16th 2008. A number of things, some useful, were true at that time. 1) The Phillies had not won a World Series since 1980. 2) Bartolo Colon was pitching for the Boston Red Sox. 3) The author was a college student. 4) Ryan Howard hit two home runs in that game.
That feels about right. "Ryan Howard homers off Bartolo Colon" doesn't read like something that describes an event that occurred in 2016. Somehow it did. That's what it takes for the Phillies to win a game.
To win a 1-0 game in which the starter could only last six innings, the bullpen had to do some non-terrible pitching. Phil Tetlock, from just down the street at Penn, addresses this well in his most recent remarkable book Superforecasting where he quotes the great Amos Tversky saying, "In dealing with probabilities...most people only have three settings: "gonna happen," "not gonna happen," and "maybe"." Within this framework, the Phillies bullpen holding onto a lead is best classified as "not gonna happen," or, if you're being super charitable, "maybe."
But sometimes low-probability things happen. Three innings of Hector Neris, Daniel Stumpf, David Hernandez, and Jeanmar Gomez probably will yield more than zero runs more often than not. But that doesn't mean it will never happen, which is why I waited for this game to end to write these words.
Most encouraging was David Hernandez who got two strikeouts and allowed no baserunners in the eighth inning. It's almost like he's not a terrible reliever. As a larger note, I don't understand why Pete Mackanin is employing such a quick trigger with the closer role. Sure Hernandez was awful on opening day, but shouldn't your roster/lineup decisions be based on enough evidence that a single appearance doesn't change anything? Just let Hernandez do it. Let him compile a couple saves, then trade him in July to a team who needs some bullpen depth.
The Phillies won a game. They'll probably win more frequently than they have so far, but not so much more that you should get used to it.
- Cesar Hernandez's baserunning blunders continue. He got caught stealing in the sixth inning on a play that wasn't particularly close. In the ninth, he failed to score from third when Maikel Franco softly hit a ground ball. The Phillies should know that their bullpen isn't great and, especially in the late innings, take some chances to get some extra runs.
- Via Matt Gelb, Velasquez's nine strikeout are the most by a pitcher in his Phillies debut since Roy Halladay made his debut in 2010.
- Velasquez pitched in short sleeves despite 41-degree temperatures at opening pitch. I always defended Cole Hamels wearing sleeves in warm weather because I see the value of keeping one's muscles warm and limber. But, I also defend VV taking the sleeves off. Gotta cash in on whatever intimidation factor his tattoos provide.
- With the final out of the game, the Phillies bullpen ERA slipped below 10.00 for the first time this season. It now stands at 9.88. Expect it to continue to trend downward for the next couple games because, you know, they can't be as bad as they have been. They can't be. Please don't let them be.