It was his second start in a Phillies uniform last season, and Vince Velasquez pitched the game of his life.
Everyone remembers it. It was the top highlight of 2016, and it happened on April 14, when Velasquez threw a complete game, 16-strikeout, now-walk, one-hit shutout against the San Diego Padres.
It was a magical afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, when the young right-hander had everything working for him like he never had before.
And he’s been chasing that performance every outing ever since.
Tonight in Miami, Velasquez comes off the DL and makes his first start since May 30, which was also in Miami against the Marlins, in which he went 1 1⁄3 innings and left after just 19 pitches with an elbow injury. He has missed the last month-and-a-half and, 10 appearances into his second season as a full-time starter, has a 5.58 ERA in 50 innings.
He is averaging exactly five innings a start. He has seen his strikeouts per nine (K/9) fall from 10.4 last season to 9.5 this year. His walks per nine is up from 3.1 to 3.8, and his hits per nine is up from 8.9 to 9.4 in 2017. And in 34 career starts for the Phillies, Velasquez has lasted seven innings or more just four times, and has a 4.52 ERA.
In the second half of the season, he should make around 13-15 more starts, and they could be his last opportunity to prove he can be part of this team’s rotation moving forward.
In a recent interview after one of his rehab starts, Velasquez himself didn’t seem convinced that he was meant to be in the starting rotation, and openly talked about the possibility the Phillies could put him in the ‘pen.
“I don’t know what they have planned. That’s for them to decide,” he said. “Have I been open to it? Yeah, I have. At this point, my mindset is on starting and going from there. If they’re going to use me as a closer, OK, that’s fine. I still have a job to do.”
And Velasquez admitted the second half may be his last chance to stick in the rotation.
“I really need to bear down and try to knock out these starts here and start fresh the second half,” Velasquez said. “I’m sure the way things are going right now with secondary pitches and gaining confidence, it seems like it’s going to turnaround just fine.”
Earlier this month, manager Pete Mackanin said the Phils talked about Velasquez’ future role.
“When he’s close or they tell me he’s ready, then they’ll tell me what to do with him,” Mackanin said. “We’ll discuss all that.”
For now, Velasquez is staying in the rotation. The Phils are committed to trying to make it work. After all, any pitcher who can pitch the kind of game he did in his second career start with the team should be given every opportunity to succeed in that role.
But the clock is ticking.
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