By Jim Salisbury
KANSAS CITY — Over the last 15 games, Phillies starting pitchers have a glistening 2.36 ERA.
The latest gem was turned in by a guy who has never thrown hard enough to excite the folks who put together those Top 10 prospect lists, a guy who simply gets out and wins ballgames.
There’s nothing sexy about that other than … it’s what pitching is all about.
Cole Irvin won another one Sunday afternoon. Thirteen years to the day after another lefty with the same first name beat the Cincinnati Reds in his big-league debut, Irvin beat the Kansas City Royals, 6-1, in his first big-league start (see observations). Cole Hamels pitched five shutout innings in his debut. Irvin delivered seven innings of one-run ball as the Phils finished a 4-2 road trip and headed home seven games over .500, in first place in the NL East, and ready for a demanding 20-game stretch that will feature tests against some of the best clubs in the league.
“Man, that was fun,” Irvin said of his performance, witnessed in person by a couple of dozen friends and family members who had come in from the West Coast.
Irvin, 25, was the Phillies’ fifth-round pick out of the University of Oregon in the 2016 draft. Without a high-octane fastball, he relies on mixing a deep repertoire of pitches and throwing strikes. That approach helped him go 16-4 with a 2.50 ERA at Triple A since the start of the 2018 season and it helped him beat the Royals on Sunday. He scattered five hits, walked one and struck out five. He took control of at-bats by throwing a first-pitch strike to 22 of 27 batters.
“He did a great job mixing speeds,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “He kept them off balance the whole time. He attacked hitters, got ahead of guys. He had a good mix of pitches. Can't ask for much more out of the guy than that.
“Five minutes before the game, he was just chatting it up, smiling. He didn't seem too nervous at all, which is pretty comforting from my end knowing that it's just another game for him. That's how he treated it.”
Irvin said he was more nervous when he joined the team after scheduled starter Vince Velasquez (sore elbow) went on the injured list Saturday. Irvin got word of his promotion in the wee hours of the morning and flew to Kansas City on two hours sleep. He was well rested for Sunday’s start.
“I slept like a rock last night because I didn’t have any sleep the night before,” he joked.
Irvin was supported by six runs in the fifth inning. The Phils lost the first game of the series, 5-1, then won the next two by a combined score of 13-1. Starting pitching was spectacular in those two games. Zach Eflin preceded Irvin’s gem with a shutout Saturday night.
“Cole did a great job just attacking the strike zone and inducing weak contact,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He had a crisp pace and it was just enormous for him to give our bullpen just one more day to get ready for that Milwaukee series.”
The Phils host the high-flying Brewers for four games beginning Monday night. Irvin lines up to pitch again Friday night at home in the series opener against Colorado.
Also during the 20-game stretch, the Phils will see the Cubs, Dodgers, Rockies, Cardinals and Brewers again. It's a good chance to see how the Phils stack up against some other top teams in the league, right?
"I don’t know that we’re looking to see how we stack up against teams," Kapler said. "We're just looking to beat them."
After Irvin won his debut on Sunday, his teammates celebrated by placing him in a laundry cart, wheeling him into the shower and dousing him with cold beer. Irvin actually had to shower and put his uniform back on to go out to the field to pose for a picture with family and friends. His mom, Sandy, was in town from Oregon. It was an unforgettable Mother’s Day for her and her son.