Vince Velasquez deserves another chance in Phillies rotation

Vince Velasquez #21 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Vince Velasquez #21 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Phillies RHP Vince Velasquez is impressing in summer camp; he could be the favorite for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation

Right-handed pitcher Vince Velasquez appears to be the favorite to win the fifth and final spot in the Philadelphia Phillies’ starting rotation. Whoever loses out between him and Nick Pivetta will likely start the season in the bullpen.

Manager Joe Girardi seems to be impressed with Velasquez’s showing so far: “He’s looked really good his last two outings,” the skipper said following Velasquez’s Tuesday evening intrasquad game outing. “I don’t think you can ignore what he’s doing.”

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During the shutdown, Velasquez, 28, worked on a new pitch to add to his repertoire — a cutter — while also improving his changeup. After consecutive summer camp starts using both pitches effectively, including four scoreless frames on Tuesday, it is almost as if the Montclair, California, native has new life ahead of the 60-game sprint. His line on Tuesday: four innings pitched, two hits, zero runs and one walk allowed, six strikeouts.

“I thought his cutter was good,” Girardi said. “It’s been a good pitch for him. It’s allowed him to use both sides of the plate.”

It’s hard to believe, but Velasquez is entering his fifth season with the Phillies. Along the way, there have been several ups and downs; the pinnacle point highlighted by his 16-strikeout, shutout performance opposite the San Diego Padres — his first home start with the team. Velasquez’s low point, largely, is his inconsistency and having a high pitch count early on in starts; the Phillies moved him into the bullpen, but the right-hander seems committed to being a full-time starter.

That 16-strikeout start showed right out of the gate what Velasquez can become. He just has not been able to do it consistently, let alone repeat the dominant performance. His new cutter pitch could be the key to changing all of that in 2020; he deserves a chance to show what he can do with his new-found approach against other teams.

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NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury notes that Velasquez still has a power fastball and breaking ball that fans got accustomed to seeing over his 103 appearances and 92 starts with the team. Spanning those outings, he has gone 26-33 with a 4.70 ERA, 1.375 WHIP, and 511-181 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 467 innings.

But, a “deeper, more consistent mix,” Salisbury continues, could allow the veteran who began his career with the Houston Astros in 2015 to “finally unlock the tantalizing potential.” Also, new pitching coach Bryan Price is teaching Velasquez to work the ball high and low in the strike zone; whereas, the previous coaching staff under Gabe Kapler, for example, focused more so on his power potential.

The Phillies acquired Velasquez, along with four other players, in December 2015 in exchange for hard-throwing closer Ken Giles. The expectation from the onset was that at least one of these returning players would come close to what Giles was for the Phillies early on in his career.

Velasquez is now the last man standing. This coming season could be the make or breaking point for his tenure in red pinstripes. If he fails to succeed, then the Phillies could try to replace him with top pitching prospect Spencer Howard.

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“I was talking with Bryan Price about [Velasquez],” catcher J.T. Realmuto recently told reporters. “We’re not going to be so one-dimensional with him. We’re going to move the ball around the plate, pitch up and down, mix the changeup in, mix that cutter in.”

“He’s always had that curveball. He’s looked really good. I expect big things from him.”

The 60-game sprint will definitely have some takeaway storylines we can look back on. Velasquez, at least currently, seems poised to have a good year in 2020.