MIAMI - Vince Velasquez grimaced and grabbed his right side, and a miserable month of Phillies baseball became even more dire Tuesday night.
The righthander left a 7-2 loss to the Marlins with a right elbow flexor strain after throwing just 19 pitches. The injury will send Velasquez to the disabled list for the second straight season. His recovery time, which may be prolonged, was unclear. Velasquez said he was not worried and did not expect to miss much time.
The pitcher's velocity dipped dramatically after he recorded the second out of the first inning. He felt some numbness after throwing a 95-mph fastball past Giancarlo Stanton for strike three. Velasquez was removed less than an inning later, leaving the game after the first out of the second.
"I'm just going to take it as it is. It's a flexor strain and I'll move on from there," Velasquez said. "You pretty much have to accept that it's just a flexor strain and be as optimistic as possible."
Velasquez said he was not worried about his "little strain." He said he had a flexor strain in the minor leagues and missed a week or two. Velasquez will have an MRI exam in the coming days, which will reveal the severity of the injury.
"I know mentally it's frustrating, but if you get over that hump mentally, you'll be fine," Velasquez said.
The night only got worse after he left. The offense totaled just two hits and struck out eight times. The Marlins scored on a bases-loaded walk. They scored a run when Cesar Hernandez booted a routine grounder and another when Cameron Rupp overthrew first after retrieving a sacrifice bunt. The owners of baseball's worst record sure looked like baseball's worst team. The Phillies have to hope that this was rock bottom.
The Phillies (17-33) are on pace for 107 losses, their most since 1961. They have lost 24 of their last 30 games and dropped 10 consecutive series. With a loss Wednesday, the Phillies would finish the month with the worst winning percentage in May (.214) since the 1928 Phillies, who finished the season with 109 losses.
"We just have to keep running out there and battling. Keep fighting. It's too early to get down about it," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Right now I'm not happy about it. We're a better team than this."
Velasquez, who will turn 25 on June 7, is the most electric starter at the top of the Phillies' pitching arsenal. He displayed that Tuesday when he blazed that fastball past Stanton for the second out of the first inning. It seemed to be the signal of a great night. The always intense Velasquez was pitching with fire, throwing fastballs for each of his first 11 pitches. But then his elbow flared up. Velasquez, whose average fastball velocity this season is 94.71 mph, could not even reach 92 mph on his final nine pitches after striking out Stanton.
"Things happen. One pitch happens. That's how baseball happens," Velasquez said. "It is what it is. I have to do what I have to do to get back in the game and help this team out."
Howie Kendrick, who returned from the disabled list Monday, hit a solo homer in the fourth. Another run scored on a sacrifice fly from Odubel Herrera, who entered in the eighth as a pinch-hitter. Aaron Altherr had the only other hit. Everyone else combined to go 0 for 20. The Phillies have four hits or fewer in six of the last 10 games. This was yet another ugly night.
The Phils already need a starter for Saturday to replace Zach Eflin, who was demoted to triple A. That will likely be Ben Lively, who has won 24 minor-league games over the last two seasons. They will promote a reliever Wednesday when Velasquez hits the disabled list. His next rotation turn will fall Monday. Another pitcher will be needed.
The Phillies used five pitchers to record the final 20 outs. Mark Leiter Jr. relieved Velasquez and allowed four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. Being thrust into action without notice is a tall task. Leiter has otherwise been dependable since being promoted from triple A.
There were calls earlier this season to push Velasquez to the bullpen. Perhaps his blazing fastball and fiery attitude were fit for a closer. The Phillies wanted to give Velasquez the rest of the season to try to stick as a starter. The final four months would be a good evaluation. But now Velasquez is hurt and his future is on hold.