Analysis

Vince Velasquez returns, still trying to prove he belongs in Phillies long-term rotation plans



Vince Velasquez returns to the mound for the Phillies following a 10-day stay on the disabled list.

After spending the last 10 days on the disabled list, Vince Velasquez returns to the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies. He will be activated in time for tonight’s scheduled 7:10pm EDT series finale with the division-rival New York Mets at Citi Field.

The right-hander will be trying to show that he is fully recovered, physically and otherwise, from a nasty comebacker that drilled off his arm during his last start.

On June 30 at Citizens Bank Park, Velasquez left a breaking ball rover the middle of the plate to Adam Eaton of the Washington Nationals. Eaton crushed a line drive at 97 miles per hour back at him, smashing Velasquez on his right pitching forearm just below the elbow.

Velasquez, who is ambidextrous, recovered instinctively and pounced on the ball, firing a strike to first base to retire Eaton by a half step. It was a sensational play, demonstrating the athleticism possessed by the 26-year old pitcher.

Proving that he is physically healthy will not be the only challenge tonight for Velasquez. He will also continue trying to prove that he can be an effective long-term member of the Phillies starting pitching rotation as the club plans for the future in its return to contending status.

Velasquez is now in his third full season with the Phillies. He was the lead piece in the package acquired from the Houston Astros in exchange for closer Ken Giles back in December 2015.

Thus far, Velasquez has fashioned a 15-21 record with the Phillies over 56 appearances, all of them starts. He has given up 283 hits over 291.1 innings, surrendering 49 home runs, and has a 327/113 K:BB ratio with the club. Velasquez has a 4.31 FIP and 1.359 WHIP mark with the Phillies. He has been worth a -0.02 WAR figure to the team over that time.

Most concerning to many observers has been the pitcher’s inability to consistently deliver quality performances. Only 21 of those 56 appearances (37.5%) have resulted in a Quality Start of six or more innings pitched allowing three or fewer earned runs.

Velasquez has only seen the seventh inning on 11 occasions. He has been on the mound in the eighth just once, way back on April 14, 2016 in his second career start. That complete game outing in which he struck out 16 while allowing just three hits in a shutout of the San Diego Padres got Phillies fans excited that the club had found a future ace.

He has never really demonstrated that same dominance since that day. However, Velasquez may finally be maturing a bit here in the 2018 season. Eight of his 17 starts this season have been of that Quality Start variety. Twice more, he barely missed.

Velasquez has an outstanding 107/34 K:BB ratio this season. His 4.69 ERA is largely bloated by a trio of real bombs.

In his very first start on March 31 at Sun Trust Park, the host Atlanta Braves rocked him for seven runs, four of them earned. The Braves rapped out nine hits and worked a pair of walks off Velasquez that night, driving him from the mound in the third inning of a 15-2 rout.

On April 29, it was those Braves again getting to him. Velasquez surrendered six earned runs on seven hits, five of those for extra-bases, including a pair of home runs. Atlanta knocked him out after four innings on that Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park in blasting the Phillies by a 10-1 score.

It was even worse at home on June 8 against the Milwaukee Brewers. On that Friday night, the Brew Crew routed Velasquez to the tune of 10 earned runs on nine hits over just 3.2 innings and cruised to a 12-4 victory over the Phillies.

In his very next outing, Velasquez did a complete 180 turn. His talent and potential were on full display as he no-hit the Colorado Rockies through 6.2 innings on a Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

Andrew Knapp caught him that afternoon, and was quoted on Velasquez’ dominating performance by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports:

“The stuff is electric, so when he can command the fastball at the top of the zone, it opens up so much for him…That was the best I’ve seen him battle. Everything was lined up and we had a really good game plan going in and he kind of trusted himself to go out and make pitches. That’s a tough lineup, so for him to go out and do something like that is really good.”

Because of a continued lack of command and control, as well as habitually getting blown out every handful of starts, Velasquez can be considered nothing more than a number four starter at this point in his development.

For now, that maybe good enough for these first-place Phillies. The club has Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Jake Arrieta to fill the first three slots. As long as those three remain healthy, Velasquez can continue trying to compete at the back end of the starting rotation.

There has been some talk of the Phillies possibly trying to swing a deal for a starting pitcher prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. A pair of former Phillies starters, Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, are among those speculated to have been on management’s radar at various times in recent weeks.

Just this afternoon, Devan Fink at ‘Beyond the Box Score’ summed up well the situation involving the current Phillies back-end starters:

Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are still question marks, especially with the latter on the DL (though he stay there should not be long), but some still prefer having them trying to develop in the rotation before even considering a move to the bullpen. The Phillies are in a tough position, as they try to balance development and contention.”

Velasquez wants to stay in that rotation as the Phillies continue to try and improve their roster over the next couple of seasons. He would like to permanently silence the calls from many to make him a back-end reliever. He returns tonight, hopefully to take another step towards achieving that goal.

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