As tough as Philly fans are when an athlete is underperforming, Vince Velasquez is harder on himself than pretty much anyone else could be.
Some pitchers would be at a loss for words after suffering yet another poor outing but Velasquez (2-4, 5.98) on Saturday was the opposite, baring his soul while admitting he doesn't have all the answers.
Velasquez came out firing at PNC Park, getting ahead of every hitter in the first inning and striking out three of the first four batters he faced.
But as is often the case with Velasquez, a couple dominant innings at the beginning of a game did not settle him in or set the tone for the afternoon.
"In the game, it's just a lack of commitment, a lack of concentration, just a lack of everything. I mean, jeez, even my golf game is a lack of everything. I don't know. I'm just clueless right now. I'm just running around like a chicken without a head. I don't know what I've got to do but I just know there's something — I've got to break it down little by little.
"Literally if I have to start over, whatever the situation might be. I need to break it down and not put so much pressure on myself. I think that's one of the hardest things is that I do apply a lot of pressure (on myself). Just tough situations. I've just got to get out of them. Take a deep breath, step off the mound. … It's just tough."
The main adjustment Pete Mackanin and the Phillies need to see from Velasquez is better command of his secondary pitches — his curveball, slider and changeup. He threw 32 of them Saturday and only 16 were strikes.
He has a dominant fastball, no doubt about it, but that is far from enough for a starting pitcher to succeed.
"He just has trouble commanding his secondary pitches," Mackanin said. "He needs to command his secondary pitches. Once he does that, hitters can't sit on his fastball. He's got a real high swing-and-miss percentage on his fastball. I think he's second to (Max) Scherzer.
"Players don't square up his fastball but when you can't command or show the command of your secondary stuff, then they just keep looking for the heater. And if you make mistakes with it, it gets hit. So his challenge is to start gaining better command of his breaking balls.
"If he throws a slider to a hitter and he swings and misses at it and it's out of the strike zone, he's got to have the ability to throw another one in the same location instead of just throwing a fastball."
It's almost as if the early strikeouts for Velasquez are a bad thing. His starts often seem to go like this:
• He blows his fastball by guys early and falls deeper in love with the pitch.
• His command starts to wane the second time through the order.
• Hitters know to expect the fastball, especially in favorable counts because they know Velasquez does not command or trust his offspeed pitches.
• And then come the runs.
"I like going deep into games. Unfortunately, it's just not happening," Velasquez said. "I like the fact that I threw over 100 pitches (Saturday). I'm capable of throwing over 100 pitches. … Unfortunately, I just didn't do my part.
"Nothing is going my way. I'm making pitches, guys are just hitting it. Executing pitches down in the zone, guys are hitting it. I'm elevating balls, guys are hitting it. I don't know what I've got to do to get these guys out because these guys just have my number the whole time. Everyone pretty much does. Even the pitcher probably has my number down. I don't know. I've just got to talk with [pitching coach Bob McClure] and just pretty much start all over."
The Phillies, on a 61-101 pace a quarter of the way through the season, have the luxury — if you want to call it that — of giving their young players chance after chance to improve. So, no, Velasquez is not in danger of losing his rotation spot yet despite the widely-held belief that he'd be more effective as a closer.
But he can't improve by relying on one pitch all the time. Look at Velasquez's opponent Saturday, Ivan Nova, as an example. Nova, who already has two complete games this season, threw just 91 pitches in 7⅓ innings. Velasquez threw 103 in 5⅓ innings.
Nova, whose fastball was two full miles per hour slower than Velasquez's on Saturday, threw 18 first-pitch strikes to work ahead of hitters and was able to go deep into the game by getting quick out after quick out.
Velasquez is not going to transform overnight into a sinkerballer like Nova, but he's got to find the balance between power and finesse. If he doesn't, his future will be as a reliever, whether he likes it or not.
"I think he's capable of becoming a starting pitcher," Mackanin said. "He needs to get to the point where he can handle that. There's a lot involved — finesse, your repertoire to go late into the game has to be pretty varied. And right now it's not varied enough. It's pretty much as simple as that."
If only it seemed so simple to Velasquez.