An annual Phillies question: What to do with Vince Velasquez?


Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies' 12-hit, six-homer, 15-run assault on the New York Yankees on Thursday was the fact that the pitching was very good.

OK, so the Yankees didn't bring the full varsity squad to Clearwater — it's not uncommon for teams to face watered-down lineups at home spring training games — but, nonetheless, Phillies pitchers looked good, racking up 12 strikeouts and walking just two in eight innings.

Of particular interest was the work of the first three pitchers.

Lefty Matt Moore, who projects as the team's No. 4 starter, allowed just a hit and a walk while striking out two in two innings of work. Moore needed just 23 pitches to get through his spring debut.

Vince Velasquez was next with two perfect innings and three strikeouts.

Reliever Brandon Kintzler then pitched a perfect fifth inning and struck out two. The 36-year-old right-hander, trying to make the team as a non-roster invite, is off to a good start with two scoreless appearances.

Velasquez might have been the Phillies' most impressive pitcher Thursday. He threw just 20 pitches, 14 of which were strikes, and was up to 96 mph with his fastball.

"Vinny was electric," manager Joe Girardi said. "His fastball was down in the zone. He was fantastic."

This isn't the first time we've heard stuff like this about Velasquez, particularly in exhibition settings. The 28-year-old right-hander, known for his tantalizing talent and inconsistent results, dazzled in spring training 2.0 last season and won a spot in the starting rotation before eventually losing it — for the second year in a row.

The luster has long worn off Velasquez' signature moment as a Phillie — his three-hit, no-walk, 16-strikeout shutout of the San Diego Padres on April 14, 2016 in his second start with the team. In five seasons with the Phils, he is 27-34 with a 4.76 ERA. He has averaged under five innings in 106 career big-league starts.

There was talk early this winter that the Phils might finally have had enough of waiting for Velasquez to put it all together. There was talk that the team might not tender him a contract for 2021 and let him walk. In the end, the Phils opted to hang on to Velasquez and bet one more time that 2021 was the season he'd fulfill his potential. The Phillies' decision to keep Velasquez was also impacted by the team's stunning lack of starting pitching depth.

Shortly after signing Velasquez to a one-year, $4 million contract, the Phillies went through a management change. Dave Dombrowski came on as president of baseball operations and signed some experienced starting pitching depth in Moore, Chase Anderson and Ivan Nova. Though still relatively thin in the area, the Phils suddenly had the depth where they could once again consider moving on from Velasquez.

So what will happen this spring?

Moore and Anderson are on guaranteed big-league contracts, which all but assures them getting looks in the season-opening starting rotation.

Velasquez profiles as someone who could be quite valuable as a one-inning reliever, but, again, the Phils have been down this road before and it hasn't always worked.

One potential landing spot for Velasquez could be with another club. There's always trade interest in an arm like his and shedding his $4 million could give the Phils some wiggle room under the luxury tax in July.

Who knows what will happen? Maybe Velasquez goes to the bullpen and becomes the weapon many think he can be. Maybe the depth he provides proves valuable and he ends up back in the rotation at some point in the season. Maybe he gets traded to some team that thinks they can get him on track.

Girardi isn't going to fret about it. If Velasquez continues to throw the ball like he did Thursday, that can only be a good thing, no matter what path the Phillies go down.

"He's a four-pitch guy with stuff," Girardi said. "It's just a matter of consistency. People sometimes mature at different ages. With some players, the consistency clicks a little bit later.

"I think Vinny just wants to pitch. He was a great teammate last year, going between the rotation and the bullpen. I think he would do it again. He just wants to help out and help us win."

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