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