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Phillies-Tigers Preview

May 22, 2016 - 10:59 PM It hasn't taken long for Vince Velasquez to emerge as the anchor of an improved pitching staff that's enabled the Philadelphia Phillies to compensate for an anemic lineup.

The impressive young right-hander now faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet when he toes the rubber for Monday night's opener of a three-game series with the hot-hitting Detroit Tigers.

Philadelphia's unexpected 25-19 start has had little to do with an offense that ranks at or near the bottom of the major leagues in every major category. It's overcome that lack of production behind a surprisingly sturdy bullpen and a rotation headlined by a rising star in the 23-year-old Velasquez (5-1), who's among the NL leaders in ERA (2.42) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.99).

Velasquez did endure a brief stumble by surrendering eight runs over 12 innings in consecutive starts at Miami and Atlanta earlier this month, but bounced back strongly by striking out 10 Marlins over five scoreless innings in Tuesday's 3-1 win. It was the fourth time in eight starts he didn't permit a run.

''We really like him. He's going to be special,'' manager Pete Mackanin said.

Velasquez does figure to be tested when the Phillies begin a six-game trip against a Tigers team that's scored in bunches while winning six of seven. Detroit (21-22) is hitting .322 and averaging 6.9 runs during the surge, homering in a season-high eighth straight game during Sunday's 9-4 victory over Tampa Bay.

Victor Martinez had a two-run homer and Miguel Cabrera added a solo shot while finishing 3 for 3 with two RBIs. Cameron Maybin contributed three RBIs and is 12 for 20 in six games since returning from a fractured left wrist.

Cabrera is 14 for 30 with five homers and 10 RBIs over his last eight but may not be in Monday's lineup after exiting in the seventh inning when hit by a pitch in his left knee.

More worrisome is the status of right-hander Jordan Zimmermann after he departed in the sixth with a strained groin.

''I don't expect Miggy's to be anything serious,'' manager Brad Ausmus said. ''He got hit right on a nerve that sent a little pain from his knee down his leg. The level of concern there is much lower than with Zimm.''

An extended absence by Zimmermann would be a significant blow to a rotation that's lacked consistency at the other four spots and received little from Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 5.49), though the offseason addition has been better in his last two starts.

Pelfrey has allowed two runs over 5 1/3 innings in consecutive outings against Baltimore and Minnesota after posting a 6.23 ERA through his first six.

"There's definitely progress, but I think it's harder to be worse than the way I started," he told MLB's official website. "But I've definitely been better."

Pelfrey, who recorded a 3.68 ERA in five interleague starts with Minnesota last season, faces a Philadelphia lineup that sprung to life in Sunday's 5-0 win over Atlanta. The Phillies matched a season high with 13 hits after managing eight and one run in losing the series' first two games.

Rookie Tyler Goeddel has provided a spark by hitting .419 (13 for 31) on the nine-game homestand.

Ryan Howard, 4 for 48 with 20 strikeouts since April 30, hopes his past success against Pelfrey helps him get untracked. He's hitting .356 with three homers off the veteran but last faced him in 2013.