Velasquez agrees with Bowa — it's time for him to take step forward

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Velasquez agrees with Bowa — it's time for him to take step forward


DUNEDIN, Fla. — Larry Bowa spent the last two seasons watching Vince Velasquez up close. He saw the incredible talent. He saw the frustrating inconsistency.

When Velasquez’s name came up recently, Bowa, who recently moved to the front office after a four-year run as Phillies bench coach, said just two words (see story).

“It’s time.”

Velasquez agrees. He’s 25. He has two seasons of major-league experience. It’s time for him to put it all together and take a serious step forward.

“Definitely. Definitely,” he said. “I agree. Yeah. One-hundred percent.”

In two seasons with the Phillies, the centerpiece of Matt Klentak’s first big trade as Phillies GM has shown the occasional flash of brilliance, such as a 16-strikeout game against San Diego in April 2016. Way too often, however, Velasquez has had to leave games early because of poor command and soaring pitch counts. He’s also experienced some injuries.

Velasquez made his Grapefruit League debut against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. He showed that power fastball — up to 95 mph — in striking out two in the first inning. He also showed some of the inconsistency that has dotted his career when he allowed three hits and a walk en route to being charged with three runs in the second inning of a 7-1 loss. The pitch that hurt Velasquez in that inning was an 0-2 fastball that Teoscar Hernandez hit off the wall.

“Fastball outside,” Velasquez said. “Good pitch selection, but maybe not the best location. We have a plan to attack on 0-2 counts. That’s not the area to do it. Either bounce one or elevate. This is where you learn. Make mistakes now and capitalize later.”

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler raved about what he saw from Velasquez in the first inning.

“Absolutely electric,” Kapler said. “It was ‘wow.’ Some of the changeups were falling-off-the-table good.

“The second inning he got some contact up in the air. That’s going to happen when you ask guys to pitch up in the zone.”

Kapler loved what he saw of Mark Leiter Jr. in his two innings. It was hard not to. He allowed just one hit and struck out five.

“It was one of the brighter spots of the spring,” Kapler said of Leiter's work. “The splitter was working. We asked him to execute fastballs up in the zone and use the split off that and he did that to perfection. He pounded the strike zone. Hitters looked like they knew the split was coming. They made the adjustment in their mind and they were still unable to lay off it. That’s the sign of a really good pitch.”

Leiter throws about seven different pitches and is a bulldog competitor, as Kapler is learning.

“He’s so tenacious,” Kapler said. “It’s really a pleasure. I wish we could plug that mentality into position players.”

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

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Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.