Vince Velasquez knows he's at a crossroads with Phillies


Vince Velasquez' first two outings of the spring have been the distilled essence of his big-league career.

He was dominant and efficient in his first outing Thursday against the Yankees. He pitched two perfect innings, struck out three, was up to 96 mph with his fastball, located it well and needed just 20 pitches (14 of which were strikes) to get six outs.

Next time out, different story.

Velasquez got the start against the Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon in Dunedin, Florida. He did not make it out of the second inning while allowing a hit, two runs and two walks. He did strike out three, but it was far from an efficient outing. He threw more balls than strikes (20 to 19) on his way to 39 pitches.

The Phillies lost the game, 4-1.

They had just one hit, an Alec Bohm single, through the first seven innings and for the game struck out 13 times. Ouch!

With just over three weeks to go before opening day, there are only a few unsettled areas on the Phillies. Odubel Herrera, Scott Kingery and Roman Quinn are competing for the center field job. There are bullpen roles up for grabs. And team officials are at least giving lip service to the idea of a competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation, even though it's all but a given that Matt Moore and Chase Anderson will end up with those jobs, at least at the start of the season. Why else would the team have signed them to guaranteed big-league contracts?

Velasquez and Spencer Howard are both said to be in the competition for a starting spot, but it seems more likely they will end up in other roles. 

Howard, who will start Wednesday's Grapefruit League game against Detroit (1 p.m. on NBCSP+), definitely has a future with the Phils and is expected to contribute in 2021.


Well, time will tell.

The 28-year-old right-hander is 27-34 with a 4.76 ERA in his five seasons with the Phillies. He has averaged under five innings in 106 career big-league starts.

While Phillies officials are giving Velasquez another chance to show what he can do in this camp, there is a general feeling that time is running out for him. Even Velasquez has picked up that vibe. Heck, he admitted that he wasn't sure he'd even be tendered a contract back in December.

"I'm aware of the situation," he said after Tuesday's lackluster outing. "I'm aware of who we have and who's competing."

It's quite possible that Velasquez could end up in the bullpen, where his power arm might play well.

It's also quite possible that the team could trade him and free up $4 million in salary that might come in handy at the July trade deadline.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Velasquez said. "But it's not going to stop me from competing. If it happens, it happens. Whatever organization I land in, you're going to get a new guy mentally and physically, a guy trying to win and figure things out."

Velasquez said he took some personal stock of his career this winter, said he was committed to growing from his past failures. He mentioned that he hit a personal "reset" button. He even hired a new agency to represent him, moving on from high-powered Scott Boras and joining CAA, the firm that represents J.T. Realmuto.

"Coming over (from Houston in a trade for Ken Giles in December 2015), I was supposed to be a potential ace, but at the same time, (bleep) happens," Velasquez said. "I've had a lot of ups and downs. I haven't made the best of my opportunities. But I don't think they're wasted opportunities. I've learned from them and if this is the last opportunity I could possibly have, I don't want to end on a bad note. Whether I'm starting or relieving, I want to try to help the organization."

Girardi knows how badly Velasquez wants to start. 

"Vinny really cares," Girardi said. "I'm sure he's frustrated (by Tuesday's outing). He really wants to earn a starting spot. He had trouble throwing his fastball for strikes, but you can't read too much into one start."

If the Phillies send Velasquez to the bullpen or move him in a trade, they won't be reading too much into one start.

There is a track record of inconsistency here.

Velasquez will probably pitch two more times before the Phillies make their final decisions on the rotation. With about 10 days to go before opening day, Girardi likes to have starters turned relievers begin the adjustment to that role.

"I've never met a guy competing for a starting role who was happy to go to the bullpen," Girardi said. "And that's OK. I don't ever ask a player to accept it, but I do tell them I need them to move forward and help us win.

"The decision we make in April doesn't always hold true in June. You can pitch yourself into a bigger role. So, go out and do your best."

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