Phillies Vincent Velasquez Stays in Rotation Race
By Matt Veasey
The Philadelphia Phillies battle for the role of 5th starter in the 2016 pitching rotation is heating up.
In this afternoon’s 8-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field in Clearwater, the offense was again the key to victory. The Phils’ bats roped out 14 hits, continuing the explosive firepower that has been the club’s earmark thus far in going 9-3-2 in the Grapefruit League.
But perhaps just as important to the continued strong offensive performance was that turned in by the starting pitcher on this day. Taking the mound was talented 23-year old Vincent Velasquez, one of the key pieces arriving in the Giles deal with the Houston Astros over the winter.
Velasquez is battling with holdover right-hander David Buchanan and a pair of lefties, fellow Astros’ trade member Brett Oberholtzer and holdover Adam Morgan, for that 5th starter spot in the Phillies’ 2016 pitching rotation.
Today against as high-powered a lineup as there is in baseball, Velasquez gave up a few hits, but was mostly impressive in becoming the first Phils’ starter to go 4 innings this spring. He allowed four hits, walked two, made a throwing error on an errant pick-off play, and struck out three Jays in facing a total of 18 batters.
Velasquez began his day on the mound with a shutout first inning in which he allowed just a one-out single to AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Following the Donaldson single, Velasquez retired a dangerous combo, getting Jose Bautista on a pop up, and Troy Tulowitzki looking at a called third strike.
The 2nd inning was his big challenge, and though he did yield a pair of runs, he also managed to mitigate the damage. Chris Colabello led off with a triple to right field, and was followed by an RBI single off the bat of Michael Saunders. It was then that Velasquez threw a ball away at first while attempting to pick Saunders off.
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Velasquez then walked the next batter. This was followed by a sacrifice bunt that moved the two runners into scoring position. A ground out scored the Jays’ second run of the inning, but then Velasquez got Kevin Pillar to fly out to center to end the frame.
In the top of the 3rd, that dangerous Jays’ trio of Donaldson, Bautista, and Tulowitzki again came to the plate. Velasquez mowed through the veterans in order. He got Donaldson and Joey Bats to each ground out easily to short, and then retired Tulo on an easy foul pop out to catcher Carlos Ruiz.
In his final frame, Velasquez allowed a one-out double to center by Saunders. He followed that by walking Darrell Ceciliani for the 2nd time on four pitches. But then Velasquez got out of trouble and ended his day on a high note, freezing both Ryan Goins and Josh Thole on called third strikes.
The performance left Velasquez with 9 total innings pitched thus far this spring over three outings, two of those as starts. He has a 4.00 ERA, and has allowed 10 hits with a 9/3 K:BB ratio.
To this point in spring, both Oberholtzer and Morgan have looked solid. Both pitchers have more experience than Velasquez, and both are left-handed. All four of the other anticipated members of the rotation are righties. All of this probably puts Velasquez behind the proverbial 8-ball at this point.
However, this afternoon’s solid performance against a tough lineup certainly was enough to keep him in the fight. He needs to keep pitching well, and could probably use each of the left-handers to slip a bit.
Short of some injury, a worst-case scenario for Velasquez would be that he impresses but is simply beaten out for a rotation spot to start the season. He goes to AAA Lehigh Valley, and there fronts a talented IronPigs staff, positioning himself as the first call-up should anyone in the big league rotation suffer injury, serious performance troubles, or gets traded.