We might have just seen the most dominant game of the 2016 season. Vince Velasquez of the Philadelphia Phillies absolutely crushed the San Diego Padres on Thursday, tossing a three-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts and no walks. That's a game score of 97 and there's a small chance it will hold up as the best of the season. We had just seven better games in 2015, topped by Max Scherzer's 17-strikeout no-hitter that registered a 104, the second-highest ever in a nine-inning game behind Kerry Wood. Remarkably, Scherzer had another game score of 100, the only pitcher to do so twice in one season (there have been only 13 game scores of 100 or higher in a nine-inning game).
Speaking of Wood, Velasquez became the fifth-youngest pitcher to finish with at least 14 strikeouts and no walks, joining a top five with Wood, Vida Blue, Dwight Gooden and Jose Fernandez.
How does that Ken Giles trade look like right now? I think Jeff Luhnow just called in sick for Thursday's game.
In this age of extreme caution, there was some debate about whether Velasquez should return for the ninth inning. He had struck out the side in the eighth, but was at 101 pitches. He was making just his ninth career start and had topped out at 104 pitches in a game last season for the Astros. He's also had injury issues, missing his junior year in high school and having Tommy John surgery in 2011 while in the minors. He's always had that big arm, however, and he was the main guy the Phillies acquired in the multiplayer deal that sent Giles to the Astros. The Astros seemed unsure whether Velasquez's future was as a starter or reliever, one reason they were willing to trade him. The Phillies were happy to acquire his potential upside as a starter.
Velasquez returned for the ninth inning, and I applaud Phillies manager Pete Mackanin for not getting wrapped up in the pitch count. Even with all the strikeouts, Velasquez had been efficient with his pitches, with no high-stress innings. The ninth was just as easy. He struck out Jon Jay on four pitches, got Cory Spangenberg to line out on an 0-1 changeup, then fanned Wil Myers swinging on a five pitches. The final pitch: A 96-mph fastball.
"You just have to lock in," Velasquez said on his postgame TV interview. "You know you have that last inning and just want to finish strong."
That fastball was the key to Velasquez's effort. He induced 27 swings-and-misses for the day, with 20 of those coming on that rising mid-90s fastball. The Padres swung at 38 of the 79 fastballs Velasquez threw and missed on more than half of those swings. That's remarkable stuff. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the only pitcher who recorded 20 misses on his fastball in a game in 2015 was Scherzer, who recorded 20 in his final start of the season, against the Mets. We have data going back to 2009 and no pitcher has more than 20 swings-and-misses on his fastball in one game.
Of course, we do have to point out that this was the Padres. They're hitting .095 in games not played at Colorado's Coors Field and became the first team to ever get shut out five times in its first 10 games. Unlike the rebuilding Phillies, the Padres are kind of trying to win, yet are 3-7. Myers is hitting .211 with one walk and 15 strikeouts, Derek Norris is hitting .133 without an RBI and Alexei Ramirez doesn't have an extra-base hit. Some ugly stuff.
That's probably why Velasquez's game won't hold up as the highest game score. The Padres aren't the only NL team with a terrible offense. The Phillies are going to struggle to score runs. The Braves have no power. The Rockies might have difficulty scoring away from home. We'll see about the Reds and Brewers.
But for now, Velasquez can enjoy the best game he might ever pitch. The Phillies can only hope that this is the beginning. And the Astros? They have to hope this trade doesn't eventually go alongside drafting Mark Appel over Kris Bryant.