vince velasquez

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.”

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."

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies upgraded their bullpen this winter with the signings of Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

They bettered their offense with the signing of Carlos Santana, the injection of J.P. Crawford’s on-base percentage. And a full season of Rhys Hoskins won’t hurt.

The glaring area of need for this team remains the starting pitching rotation.

The team added to its inventory of starters when it signed veteran right-hander Drew Hutchison to a minor-league contract on Thursday. The former Toronto Blue Jay will join a long list of candidates to win a spot at the back end of the rotation.

“It’s a good depth move for us but it doesn't end our search for additional starting pitching,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

Klentak had been looking to add starting pitching all winter. There is enough of it available as Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and others remain on the slow-moving free-agent market.

Arrieta is a former National League Cy Young award winner, but the time does not seem right for this rebuilding team to make a run at him. The right-hander will pitch at 32 this season and is said to be seeking a deal of six years or more. Length of contract is a serious consideration for this team. When Santana hit the free-agent market in November, he was said to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal. The Phils had no stomach for that. When he came down to three years, they pounced.

If the (length of) contract demands of the remaining free agents come down, the Phillies could add another pitcher in the coming weeks. If they don’t, Klentak is comfortable with the group that has been assembled.

“We’re open to adding a starter if it makes sense for us, but even if we don’t, we are confident that this starting pitching group is going to take a step forward because they are really talented and they’re healthy,” Klentak said. “We’re watching them here and they look great.

“The starting pitching market being as slow to develop as it has been has allowed us to get to Clearwater and watch our guys and evaluate them and see the look in their eye and see the electricity in their pitches and regain that confidence in our young starting pitching.”

Aaron Nola lines up to start on opening day. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will be in the rotation. Nick Pivetta seems to have a good shot after making 25 starts last season. Ben Lively made a good showing last year. He’s a tough competitor and will make a strong run at winning a spot, but so will Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter, Tom Eshelman and Hutchison.

As much as new manager Gabe Kapler would love a top starter dropped in his lap, he, like his bosses, remains committed to the development process that has gone hand in hand with this rebuild.

“You’re always looking to upgrade,” he said. “But there has to be a balance. If you bring in someone, a young arm might not get an opportunity.”

Not long ago, the Phillies had some of the top payrolls in the game. From 2012 to 2014, they spent over a half-billion on payroll (only the Yankees and Dodgers spent more in the time) and did not make the playoffs in any of those seasons. That led to the current rebuild, which has been marked by disciplined roster construction.

“We’re open to anything,” Klentak said. “But the dollars and the years and the player fit would have to be right. We’re not going to compromise on our evaluation and where we see the franchise right now. We’re not going to do something that doesn’t make sense for this organization."

That will continue.

“We’ve gone through this rebuild and acknowledged that it was going to be painful for a few years," Klentak said. "It has been. We’re not going to do anything to compromise the future of that. We’re going to continue to do this right. If there’s something that makes sense, I know the owners will support it economically. It’s up to us to bring that to them if we see fit. And if we don’t, we’re excited about the group we have here. We have ways we think we’re going to help this group continue to improve. Either way, it’s going to be a fun year.”