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Vince Velasquez could be the breakout candidate we’ve been waiting for

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Could the fireballing right-hander have what it takes to command within an early-troubled Phillies rotation?

Photo via Drew Hallowell / Getty Images

We all watched Vince Velasquez dominate the Rockies on Friday, yielding an otherwise disappointing result — but, for many fans, this begs the question: how good was Velasquez really?

The answer: very.

It’s no secret that Velasquez’ Spring was severely underwhelming — extraordinarily so, as he pitched to a destructive 12.79 ERA over just 6.1 frames of work, allowing 11 hits, while striking out 15(!) However, as the old adage goes, Spring Training statistics mean “nothing.”

That being said, the Vince Velasquez we’ve seen thus far looks like a completely different pitcher than the rattled, insecure kid that we saw take the mound this Spring, or at any other point throughout his career for that matter.

While he’s turned in some solid starts this season, none were more indicative of his progress as a pitcher than this past Friday night against the Colorado Rockies, where Velasquez pitched to a solid line of: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 8 K.

While that may not look too impressive at face value, when one delves deeper beneath the surface, there are many things to get excited about.

First things first, Velasquez’ velocity is booming of late. This past Spring, Velasquez was lucky to touch 95 on his fastball, primarily sitting in the 92-94 range throughout his 3 starts. Last week, against Miami, Velasquez touched an exciting 97, and, Friday night, Velasquez loosed 98, sitting comfortably at 95-97 mph.

This top-end velocity is the key Velasquez has been looking for to truly separate his fastball from the majority of his pitches. His slider, which averages out at around 88 mph, and his curve, which averages at 85, tend to look similar, which is a spot in which Velasquez tends to find trouble. However, should he continue to add velocity to his fastball and slider, and, conversely, strip velocity from his curve, we could be looking at a potentially elite three-pitch arsenal.

Another huge plus from Friday night — each of the 8 strikeouts that Velasquez recorded against Colorado came on his fastball, which is something we’ve rarely seen out of the young right-hander. Typically, the Vince of old would attempt to make guys swing-and-miss on his breaking stuff, and fool them with non-deceptive pitches outside of the zone, washing his durability, and putting him behind hitters. Last night, he was forcing guys to catch up to him, blowing 97 mph heaters right by them.

Above all else, the biggest improvement we saw out of Velasquez Friday night was his resounding confidence. It takes a lot of guts to test remarkable hitters like Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado with high-cheese fastballs, as veterans tend to feast on pitches of said variety. But, Velasquez wasn’t worried one bit, as he continued gassing high heaters directly through their bats.

This newfound ferocity is what we’ve been missing from Velasquez all along, as his previous incarnations would have never thought to depend on his ability to throw hard, deceiving strikes.

Now, all of the positivity aside, there is still cause for hesitation. Once the rest of the league begins to discover Vince’s strategy, he’ll be easily punished by those who devour high fastballs and the like, which could begin to rattle him. It then becomes Velasquez’ job to adjust, and to manipulate his pitches in a way that, while natural to him, also tricks the hitters.

In summary, what is it that we have in Vince Velasquez?

From what we’ve seen thus far, we have a guy with a plus fastball who commands it well, and can use his secondary pitches to take guys off of that same fastball, to then retire them with it. This strategy, while possibly repetitive, seemed to work against a high-tempo offense in Colorado, and, therefore, could bode well for him in the future.

Should Velasquez take these last few outings and build upon them, he could have quite the season on his hands.