PHILADELPHIA -- Two pitchers trending in opposite directions square off Wednesday afternoon when the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies conclude a three-game series.
Cubs right-hander John Lackey has warmed up with the weather, but Phillies righty Vince Velasquez is seeking to regain his early season form.
The 37-year-old Lackey (6-2, 2.88 ERA) pitched to a 4.97 ERA in April but is 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA since May 1. The 14-year veteran has won his last two starts, and his last time out he combined with three relievers to shut out Arizona.
Velasquez, who turned 24 on Tuesday, began the season by pitching 15 consecutive scoreless innings, including a complete-game three-hitter against San Diego in which he struck out 16.
Through five starts, Velasquez (5-2, 3.67) was 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA, but is 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA since. That includes a loss to the Cubs in Wrigley Field on May 29 in which the second-year man allowed seven runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. He has not pitched more than five innings in his last four starts.
It's not surprising that Chicago manager Joe Maddon has called Lackey the "linchpin" of the Cubs' rotation, according to Major League Baseball's official web site.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, meanwhile, doesn't know what to make of Velasquez, who was acquired from Houston in an offseason trade.
"When he pitched that game against San Diego, I think he kind of thought he had it figured out," Mackanin said before Velasquez took a no-decision Friday against Milwaukee. "Why wouldn't you feel that way? Then he got hit around a little bit. All of a sudden the wheels start spinning."
Instead of attacking hitters, Velasquez started nibbling.
"I think that pitchers have a tendency when they get hit, all of a sudden they're pitching away from contact," Mackanin said. "That's what I think he's been going through."
Velasquez needed 94 pitches (57 strikes) to slog through 4 1/3 innings against the Brewers, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out six and walking three. He stalked off the mound when Mackanin removed him.
"I didn't like the way he gave me the ball," Mackanin said after the game. "We talked afterwards and we're cool. I didn't want to take him out with a lead in the fifth nor did he want to come out, but sometimes it happens."
Velasquez admitted he was frustrated.
"Who wants to be taken out of the game?" he said. "But I have to hand the ball over."
That same day Lackey worked 6 2/3 shutout innings against Arizona, allowing five hits while striking out nine and walking two. He told reporters he was seeking to make amends for a poor outing against the Diamondbacks earlier in the season.
More than that, though, he was continuing a trend. In his previous start he went seven innings to beat the Phillies, allowing one run on four hits.
Small wonder that Maddon regards him as a linchpin.
"I'm good with that, yeah," Lackey said, according to MLB.com. "I take a lot of pride in being somebody you can count on, somebody who takes the ball and somebody who goes deep into games and somebody who you know what you're going to get."