A struggling veteran and a highly valued rookie trying to find his way square off on Friday when the Philadelphia Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in the opener of a four-game series between the two National League East rivals.
Veteran Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez (0-0, 12.00 ERA) will try to find the answer against a Braves team that has troubled him throughout his career. He will be opposed by Atlanta's Kyle Wright (0-1, 7.50), a 2017 first-round draft pick with a chance to nail down a spot in the team's unsettled rotation.
The Braves are coming off a 7-2 homestand and just took two of three from Toronto, winning the finale on a walk-off home run by Nick Markakis. The Phillies defeated the New York Yankees 5-4 on Thursday to split their four-game season series.
The Phillies won 10 of 19 game against Atlanta in 2019.
Velasquez wasn't effective in his first start of the season against the Miami Marlins on July 26. In three innings pitched, he allowed four runs on three hits and two walks, striking out four and getting tagged for a pair of home runs.
"I have to earn my stripes back," Velasquez told reporters after that game.
Velasquez has struggled against the Braves throughout his career, though he is coming off his best season against them. He went 1-1 with a 7.04 ERA in three games, two starts, against Atlanta in 2019. He won his last start against the Braves on Sept. 17, when he allowed two runs and struck out eight in five innings -- but that is his only win against Atlanta. In 12 career appearances (11 starts), he is 1-6 with a 5.20 ERA against the Braves.
Wright will try to solve some of the control problems that have plagued him over his first two starts. In six innings, he has allowed nine hits and issued seven walks, with opponents batting .346 against him. In his most recent start last Sunday, Wright did not allow a run, despite giving up five hits and four walks.
"It was an improvement over the last time. I'll say that," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker told reporters after Wright gave up five runs on four hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings in his season debut against Tampa Bay. "So hopefully the next time out, he'll be a little more settled and start feeling like himself. To his credit, he never gave in, which is a great trait to have. He's a young kid with great stuff who is learning."
The Braves will need to find an answer for Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto. Over his last five games, the veteran is hitting .400 (8-for-20) and has homered in back-to-back games.
Although he is only hitting .250 this season, outfielder Bryce Harper is hitting .275 with 32 homers in his career against the Braves. He went deep seven times against Atlanta in 2019.
Atlanta outfielder Adam Duvall is off to a good start. He is batting .368 (7-for-19) to start the season with two homers, six runs scored and four RBIs. Markakis was the hero on Thursday and needs one double to become the 64th player in history to reach the 500 mark.
Teams had to reduce their rosters to 28 players on Thursday. The Braves activated reliever Will Smith earlier in the day while optioning catcher Alex Jackson and reliever Chad Sobotka to their alternate training site and designating outfielder Scott Schebler for assignment. The Phillies optioned right-hander Enyel De Los Santos and outfielder Kyle Garlick to their alternate site.
--Field Level Media