Vince Velasquez hits 97 mph in rehab outing, hopes to rejoin Phillies for next start


READING, Pa. — Vince Velasquez's fastball reached as high as 97 mph in his first rehab start Wednesday with Double A Reading, and if he has his way, his next start will be with the Phillies.

Velasquez, on the 15-day DL with a right biceps strain suffered on June 8, pitched five innings Wednesday, allowing one run on two hits with one walk and three strikeouts. He was on a pitch count of about 75 and threw 76 pitches, 51 for strikes.

"Felt really good. Everything just seems like it was back to normal," Velasquez said. "Fastball was looking really good. Tonight's goals were to throw all pitches and locate them. I took about 10 days off, it took about 10 days to get back on the mound. And coming out tonight, I was hoping everything was working, that I could take everything I did in my bullpen (sessions) into the game, and everything was working pretty well."

It was important to see Velasquez's velocity return in this start. In the game against the Cubs on June 8 that he exited after two pitches, both were 87 mph fastballs. It was a clear sign that something was wrong for a pitcher whose fastball has averaged 94 mph this season.

On Wednesday, his fastball sat mostly in that 94 mph range. He used his full repertoire, throwing sliders in the upper-80s, changeups in the mid-80s and curveballs in the low-80s.

"Talking to the guys behind home plate, on the radar gun everything seems like it's back to normal," Velasquez said. "I took little peaks at the speedometer and [the fastball] was 97 so that shows I'm kinda back to normal. Changeup was a bit faster and a little bit more filthier I guess, but I was on everything."

Velasquez's first three pitches of the game were fastballs that registered at 95, 94 and 94 mph on the radar gun at FirstEnergy Stadium. His fourth pitch was a 92 mph heater that Akron RubberDucks (Indians affiliate) shortstop Todd Hankins hit out to left field for a leadoff home run. 

But Velasquez, who said he clicked almost instantly with Phillies top catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, allowed no hits and just one walk after the first inning. A few well-struck line drives found gloves.

How many rehab starts Velasquez makes is not his decision. He said Wednesday that the Phillies would like him to make another, but he's going to try to convince them he's ready to go.

"Well, I mean, I went 76 (pitches) ... that was pretty much today's objective, to go at least five and get 75 in," Velasquez said. "So I did that. Talking to [the Phillies, they] pretty much [want] me to go two, but I'm good, I'm ready to go. ... If it was my choice, yeah, I'm ready to go."

For Velasquez, this break was just as important mentally as it was physically. Through his first eight starts, he had a 2.42 ERA, a .197 opponents' batting average and had allowed three home runs in 48 1/3 innings. In his last four starts before going on the DL, Velasquez's ERA was 8.10, his opponents hit .379 and he allowed five home runs in just 13 1/3 innings.

"Definitely. I went more than four innings tonight, so that was a plus," Velasquez joked. "Just to gather up everything, mentally, physically, get a little break for my arm. I'll probably get another start in before the All-Star break, one or two maybe, take that week off and then get ready for the next half. It's pretty much a good note after today."

Some of the struggles Velasquez faced before the injury were a result of facing the Tigers and Cubs, but he also had a short outing after that against the Brewers. His last quality start (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) was all the way back on May 1 against the Indians.

One thing he did not do during his time off was look back at the video of that shaky two-week span in which his ERA rose from 2.42 to 3.65 in the span of five starts. 

"That's the past," he said. "I'm over it. I cleared my mind a long time ago. Can't do anything about it now, just got to move on. I had my injury and I moved on from it."

If Velasquez is indeed ready to return to the Phillies five nights from now, his start would be next Monday in Arizona. Barring an injury or something unforeseen, he figures to replace either Zach Eflin or Adam Morgan in the rotation.

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