Larry Bowa

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

USA Today Images

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.”

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Larry Bowa is still here, hitting ground balls, working with the infielders, pitching batting practice and offering opinions.

"This team should play .500," he said walking off the field after a workout this week. 

"At least .500."

Bowa might be 72, but his energy level is that of a man 50 years younger. Really. This is his 53rd year in pro ball and his 34th in a Phillies uniform. He was a Gold Glove shortstop and a World Series winner in his playing days, he helped win a National League pennant as third base coach in 1993. He managed the club for four years and spent the last four seasons as bench coach.

The front office made sweeping changes after last season. Pete Mackanin was let go as manager — he remains with the club as an adviser and will scout spring training in Arizona — and Bowa relinquished his bench coaching duties. But Bowa's affiliation with the Phillies, which began in 1966, continues. He is now a senior adviser to general manager Matt Klentak. He will spend the season watching all of the Phillies' clubs from top to bottom. He will work with minor-league infielders. So there will be plenty to keep him busy.

Though the Phillies' win total slipped by five, from 71 to 66, last season, strides were made in the rebuild. The team played .500 ball over the final 76 games and a number of young players, some who could be difference-makers for a long time, arrived in the majors.

That's one of the reasons Bowa thinks this Phillies team can surprise people.

"The experience they gained last year, the way they played the second half, the way they played in the division, they played Washington tough," Bowa said. "Our division is not what you'd call super strong, and you're playing all those teams 18 times.

"I think our lineup is going to score runs. They're going to catch the ball. We caught the ball in the infield last year. And I think they're going to catch it in the outfield.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to have more pitching depth, but you know what? There aren't many perfect teams. They should play .500. The bullpen is strong. You hear they might go with eight relievers. Mix and match."

In his heart, Bowa was sad to see shortstop Freddy Galvis go. The two were close after working together for years. But Bowa thinks rookie J.P. Crawford is going to be just fine.

"I think Crawford is a very good shortstop, I really do," Bowa said. "With Freddy, you're talking about a guy who in my opinion should have won two Gold Gloves. Not one. Two. He should have won the last two years, but he didn't. The thing that J.P. brings is, even when he didn't hit good the last month last season, he gets on base. That's big."

Bowa loved what he saw of Aaron Nola last season and believes Jerad Eickhoff will bounce back big.

"He cemented himself with the way he pitched," Bowa said of Nola, who ranked 20th among big-league starters with a 3.54 ERA last season. "And you didn't even see the real Eickhoff. I think there was something bothering him and he tried to pitch through it. I don't think it was anything major. He's a bulldog, man. I'd fight for Eickhoff and Nola every day of the week. I like their demeanor, their attitude, their intensity."

Bowa didn't mince words when talking about third baseman Maikel Franco and starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, two big talents that need to do more.

"It's time," Bowa said, plainly. "It's just time. These are two guys that mean a lot to this team. Stuff-wise, Vinny should pitch good this year."

Bowa loves the addition of first baseman Carlos Santana, a selective hitter who produces runs. He was impressed with the late-season work of relievers Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia and thinks the confidence they gained will fuel strong seasons. He believes the team will respond well to new manager Gabe Kapler's energy.

"If you play .500 baseball going into the middle of August," Bowa said. "There's so much parity in baseball, you catch lightning in a bottle, watch out."

Bowa is happy to still be around the game and the Phillies. The change in role agrees with him.

"I've had a charmed life," he said. "And to be honest, I wasn't in love with the travel anymore."

He remains proud of the Phillies' second half last year. The team went 38-38 in its final 76 games.

"People sort of dismiss that," Bowa said. "But the fact is, it's very easy to fold up shop when you're buried at the All-Star break. It's a credit to Pete and the guys that played, they never quit. They played hard.

"I think this organization, if you look at the second half when Pete left, it's a lot better than when he took over.

"The stars are aligning. Things are really looking up."

Another old friend joins Phillies' spring coaching staff

AP Images

Another old friend joins Phillies' spring coaching staff

Another old friend is joining the Phillies' coaching staff as a guest instructor in Clearwater this spring.

Bobby Abreu will make his coaching debut, while Larry Bowa, Brad Lidge, Charlie Manuel, Dan Plesac and Mike Schmidt will all be back to assist in spring training.

Gabe Kapler has a lot of experience on his side as he prepares for his first camp as a major-league manager.

Abreu was a polarizing player in these parts, drawing criticism from fans for a perceived lack of hustle and not nearly enough praise for hitting .303/.416/.513 in his nine seasons with the Phils. He was one of the most complete players in the game during his peak from 1998 to 2006.

The Phillies' first workout with pitchers and catchers is Feb. 14 in Clearwater. Full-squad workouts begin Feb. 19.