You don’t want to get too excited about one intrasquad game, even though it was the first real, live baseball we’ve seen since the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended spring training back in March, so it’s important to pump the brakes on anything and everything at this still-very-early stage of the 2020 season.
That being said, Vince Velasquez and Zack Wheeler looked really good last night.
Velasquez is competing with Nick Pivetta for the No. 5 starter’s job and, at least based on what he showed during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage with each other, Vinny Velo appears to have gotten his work in during the delay. He featured a new cutter that he had been working on during the pandemic and appears to have also made an effort to get his changeup to be a more reliable pitch for him. He used both pitches effectively in four innings of work, and manager Joe Girardi was left impressed.
Four scoreless innings and second straight outing in which he showed a promising cutter, a pitch he worked on during quarantine. Is Vince Velasquez in lead to be #Phillies’ 5th-starter?— Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) July 15, 2020
“He's looked really good,” Joe Girardi said. “I don't think you can ignore what he's doing.”
Now, we haven’t seen Nick Pivetta yet, so it’s entirely possible he’ll look just as good if and when we seem him take the hill. But Velasquez has always had the stuff to be an effective starter, but hasn’t ever been able to put it all together. He’s made 99 career starts and has a 4.67 ERA overall in parts of five seasons with the Astros and Phils. His 5.21 FIP and 4.91 ERA were wholly unimpressive and he’s always had a problem giving up the long ball, serving up 26 in just 117.1 innings last year.
New pitching coach Bryan Price replaced Chris Young this off-season and has changed the approach the team wants to take with the 28-year-old right-hander. Under previous manager Gabe Kapler, the team asked Velasquez to live at the top of the strike zone, but Price is an advocate of moving the ball up and down in the zone, a more traditional approach aimed at changing the eye levels of the hitters.
Will that be enough to finally allow Velasquez to reach his true potential? We’ve been asking that question for four years, and this is Vinny’s last chance to answer it in the affirmative.
Velasquez will likely get a chance to stick in the rotation for a little while, if he does make it, given that Wheeler’s time with the team could be interrupted once his new baby is born. Wheeler’s wife is due within the next week or two and he’s expected to step away from the team for at least a couple weeks to welcome his new child into the world.
He’ll be missed, if last night’s outing is any indication. He featured what appeared to be a good fastball (there were no radar readings available on the live stream telecast) and gave up three hits and three walks to 19 hitters. He struck out just two, but limited damage and featured the type of stuff that you’d expect to see out of a No. 2 starter.
Aaron Nola turned in what appeared to be a solid outing in the untelevised intrasquad game on Monday, and he looks set to make the start on Opening Day. A dialed-in Wheeler in the No. 2 spot and an effective Velasquez at the back of the rotation could mean very good things for the Phillies in 2020.
But it is still too early in this crazy, wacky, scary season to draw any conclusions from the first game to hit our eyeballs in four months.