Phillies

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

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Vince Velasquez has been locked in since mid-June, which has been crucial for the Phillies with Nick Pivetta headed in the other direction.

The Padres couldn't touch Velasquez Sunday night, managing just two hits and a walk in his seven shutout innings (see first take). That's been a common theme for Velasquez over his last six starts, a span in which he has a 2.38 ERA and .134 opponents' batting average.

These last two starts in particular, Velasquez had pitched with a faster pace and more efficiency. Against the Mets and Padres — granted, the two worst offenses in the NL — he's thrown an average of just 13.2 pitches per inning.

He's picked up his pace on the mound, too, which was necessary. Velasquez entered Sunday night's game with the slowest pace in between pitches in all of baseball at 27.5 seconds.

"I think that's what has pretty much been the big turnaround for me," Velasquez said after his gem. "Finding that tempo and pretty much driving it through the game."

"That was as good as he's been all year," manager Gabe Kapler said. "The tempo, the pace and the energy levels were right on.

"It's the combination of keeping his rhythm and his pace but not losing control of his body. It's somewhere right in the middle. ... When he gets runners on base, he's done a really good job of holding runners on. The pickoff (of Freddy Galvis) was notable but just as important, he does a great job holding the baseball. As a runner at first base, you have difficulty timing your jumps and before you know it, your body shuts down naturally.

"Across the board, I think he's been an exceptional athlete for us on the mound."

The Phillies are finally seeing signs of growth from Velasquez. He's looked like more of a pitcher and less of a thrower lately. He hasn't been running the insanely deep, foul-ball fueled counts while in search of a strikeout.

Velasquez's next start will be a more accurate gauge of whether he's truly turned a corner because it comes at Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati against a potent Reds lineup.

Despite the weakness of the Padres' offense, Velasquez did win a high-pressure battle in the sixth inning Sunday against former All-Star Eric Hosmer, by far the most dangerous hitter in San Diego's lineup. With two men on, two outs and the Phillies up 1-0, Velasquez battled back from a 2-0 hole to induce a shallow flyout to left field.

The Phillies went on to win 5-0 but that was the biggest spot in the game, the kind of moment when a well-placed knock from Hosmer could have changed the complexion of the rest of the night.

"He really has seemed to flourish when we've asked him to pitch a little bit deeper into games and he's earned the right to do that," Kapler said after Velasquez's longest start of 2018. "Two strong outings in a row, very encouraging for Vinny."

Two years and three months ago, Velasquez made his best start as a major-leaguer against the Padres, striking out 16 in a three-hit shutout. He did it with a big, upper-90s fastball that missed bat after bat.

On Sunday, Velasquez attacked in a different way. He started exactly one-third of the batters he faced with a first-pitch breaking ball or changeup. He could have been as fastball-happy as ever against a Padres team on pace to strike out more than any club in the history of baseball, but mixing it up Sunday made sense. The Padres have been one of the majors' worst teams vs. non-fastballs, hitting .202.

Pitching, not throwing.

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Phillies make a minor trade, sign a familiar utility man on final day of winter meetings

Phillies make a minor trade, sign a familiar utility man on final day of winter meetings

SAN DIEGO — The Phillies wrapped up the winter meetings with a blip of activity in the Rule 5 draft Thursday. The club selected Vimael Machin, a shortstop from the Chicago Cubs organization, with the 15th pick in the draft and quickly traded him to the Oakland A’s in a cash deal.
 
The Phillies lost no players in draft.
 
The Phillies did make an addition before leaving the meetings. According to sources, the club re-signed utility man Phil Gosselin to a minor-league deal with an invite to big-league spring training camp.
 
Gosselin, 31, played in 44 games for the Phillies last season and hit .262. He was 10 for 32 with three RBIs as a pinch-hitter. He played left field, shortstop and third base. Gosselin spent the bulk of the season at Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he hit .314 with 8 homers, 47 RBIs and a .901 OPS in 296 at-bats.
 
Active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 players next season so Gosselin will be in play for a spot on the lengthened bench along with veteran infielder Josh Harrison and others. Harrison recently signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies.
 
Gosselin, a West Chester native, played at Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia. He has played in the majors with the Braves, Pirates, Reds, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Phillies.

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Sounds like Odubel Herrera is a goner as Phillies’ GM backs Adam Haseley for starting CF job

Sounds like Odubel Herrera is a goner as Phillies’ GM backs Adam Haseley for starting CF job

SAN DIEGO  — Phillies general manager Matt Klentak all but anointed Adam Haseley as the team’s starting centerfielder for the 2020 season on Wednesday and in doing so offered his strongest indication yet that Odubel Herrera will not be part of the club.

“I expect that Adam Haseley's going to be our regular centerfielder,” Klentak said on Day 3 of baseball’s winter meetings. “But having said that, I recognize that when Roman Quinn is healthy and playing to his potential, it's hard to take him out of the lineup. I think that combination of players likely takes down the majority of our center field reps this year.”

Klentak went on to say he expected Jay Bruce to be part of the club and “cover us on the corners,” as a backup to Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper as well as a bat off the bench.

That’s five outfielders and no Herrera.

By now you know the story. Herrera was suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against domestic violence last May. As a matter of procedure, he has been reinstated to the 40-man roster, but there is no guarantee he will part of the team in 2020. In fact, it seems quite doubtful based on how team officials have glossed over him  — he’s basically a forgotten man  — whenever talking about plans for the coming season. Klentak’s strong backing of a Haseley-Quinn tandem in center field next season was the latest example.

Herrera, who turns 28 this month, was the Phillies’ starting centerfielder for four-plus seasons before his suspension, and he has two years and more than $20 million remaining on his contract. When Major League Baseball and the Players Association forged its joint policy on domestic violence, both sides agreed that a player violating the policy could not have his contract voided. To move on from Herrera, the Phillies would have to eat the remainder of his salary and prove that they were releasing him for purely baseball reasons. The emergence of Haseley, who came up in June last season, and the desire to see more of him in 2020 sure sounds like a baseball reason.

“He has a guaranteed contract for this year and next,” Klentak said of Herrera. “He's getting paid. When he left the team in the spring, he was the everyday center fielder and what he's coming back to now is a much different situation. 

“It’s just a different landscape than before Odubel was suspended. That’s the crux of the issue here.”

The Phillies probably won’t feel any pressure to make a call on Herrera’s future until spring training draws near. If he comes to camp, he will have to earn his way onto the active roster. 

“Anything that happens from here on out is going to be performance driven and he has to earn whatever he’s going to get. His standing on our club is impacted by both how he performs, but also what happens around him. Some of this is within his control and some it is not. He’s in Miami, he’s working out and he’s getting himself in good shape. He understands that he’s going to have to earn whatever he gets in his career and he’s taking that seriously.”

Haseley, who will play at age 24 next season, was the Phillies’ first-round draft pick in 2017. He was a big favorite of Klentak for his ability to control the strike zone (i.e., work counts, limit strike outs, get on base) at the University of Virginia. He was called up from the minors when McCutchen blew out his ACL in June and hit .266 with 14 doubles, five homers, 26 RBIs and a .720 OPS in 222 at-bats. He walked just 14 times and struck out 60.

“In a perfect world, he would have spent more time in the minor leagues,” Klentak said. “But with McCutchen getting hurt, we felt it was the right time to be a little more aggressive. He had some ups and downs. It wasn’t a perfect rookie season. But I think he gives a real good at-bat. He’s got a very good idea of the strike zone — he had that as an amateur and he started to show it at the big-league level. I know his walk-to-strikeout totals weren’t great but I think if you watch his at-bats, I think you can see he has that skill and as he starts to become more comfortable at this level we’ll start to see that more and more.

“I was also impressed with his defense so I think when you look at the body of work over three months that he was in the big leagues that’s a pretty impressive rookie season and I think there’s reason for optimism that he’ll be better than that (in 2020).”

From Jake Arrieta to Zack Wheeler to McCutchen and Harper, the Phillies have spent big on free agents over the last couple of years, and they still want to extend J.T. Realmuto’s contract later this winter. Most teams cannot survive by signing high-priced talents all over the diamond. For sustainability reasons, some of that talent has to be young, homegrown, and by extension, inexpensive.

So say hello to Adam Haseley in 2020. 

“I think he’s going to be a really good player,” Klentak said. “And as important as anything, our team needs to make sure that we are giving opportunities to young players when the time is right and when those players deserve it. With the way that our roster is unfolding - we have the center field spot (open) and a good young player who we really like who showed well for himself in his rookie year  — it makes sense for us to let him get the reps out there.”

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