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Column: Vince Velasquez should focus on himself

Vince Velasquez pitched well in Saturday’s spring win over the Blue Jays. Over three and a third he surrendered one run and struck out four. But he did throw too many pitches, thus the third of an inning. He threw a wild pitch. He walked Kevin Pillar.

And it was during that walk that he couldn’t quite contain himself.

“That was a fake cough. I was like, ‘Come on, bro.’ Like, ‘Wow, how do you miss that?'” said Velasquez to beat writer Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer about two close pitches called balls by home plate umpire Junior Valentine, leading to the walk. “That was painted. That’s a strike. That’s a 100-percent strike.”

Manager Pete Mackanin understands Velasquez is going to get hot, but hey, the kid has to stay under control.

“Although you need to compose yourself, I can understand a guy getting upset as long as you don’t show the umpire up,” he told Breen. “There were a few questionable calls that I thought might have been strikes. You have to put that behind you and get the next hitter. It’s like pitching around an error. You have to forget about it.”

But let’s back that up. Velasquez just told Breen – and other reporters, assuming – that he felt Valentine wasn’t correct with his calls. He also said this:

“Me and umpires just don’t get along for whatever reason, I guess. They don’t like me or they can’t see. I don’t know what the case is. It’s just one of those things where I’ve got to keep it under my tongue and just go about my business.”

“I’ve got to keep it under my tongue,” comes directly after “Me and umpires just don’t get along for whatever reason.”

Velasquez, as we know, has had trouble pitching deep into games. Last season he only finished seven innings three times, one of them being his 16-strikeout performance against San Diego, his second start of the season. As the season progressed it only seemed to worsen; in four of his final five starts, Velasquez threw more than 100 pitches and only got through six innings once (while giving up five runs to St. Louis).

Moreover, Velasquez walked 45 batters in 131 innings. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings last season, Velasquez had the 57th highest BB/9 ratio in baseball (out of 144).

He may think he and umpires don’t get along, but that isn’t his biggest issue.

To put it bluntly, he shouldn’t have said that. What a foolish thing to say this early in a career that is still tenuously seesawing – on one side is a pretty good pitcher, a guy capable of starting postseason games and going seven to eight innings deep each time; on the other side is a reliever who couldn’t hack it as a starter. Which side is Velasquez teetering closest to right now?

One of the last things Velasquez should do is drag umpires into his control issues. He should be working on getting outs, plain and simple, not offending the guys who have the ability to sway a couple of those outs. Dude, there’s nothing good about talking bad about umpires.

Velasquez is excitable, a little eccentric, and that’s all good. We love those kinds of guys in Philadelphia, and we’ll even tolerate their hijinks – Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner, Jonathan Papelbon – as long as they produce. But boy do they wear out their welcomes if they don’t produce. (Or if they offend us, in which case, don’t let the taproom door hit you on the way out.)

Velasquez still needs to produce. A 16-strikeout complete game is incredible. Seriously, the highlight of last season. Great job, kid. But don’t put yourself in worse position in one place when you still have to put yourself in better positions in other places.

This isn’t Philly tough love or anything. It’s common sense. Velasquez is wilder than most. He gets a little too jumpy, a little too focused on putting guys away and making a moment. His issue is with himself, not with umpires.

Hopefully he gets the message his manager sent. And hopefully he keeps everything under his tongue from here on out.

Vince Velasquez may be a hell of a possibility, but his tongue can help drive him off the first-inning mound.

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