Phillies

Can lefty Cole Irvin steal Vince Velasquez's job? Stay tuned

Can lefty Cole Irvin steal Vince Velasquez's job? Stay tuned

KANSAS CITY — Vince Velasquez’s sore elbow has become the opportunity Cole Irvin has been waiting for.

Irvin, a 25-year-old lefty who has racked up a lot of wins in a season-plus at Triple A, will make his big-league debut Sunday afternoon against the Kansas City Royals.

Is there a chance Irvin could steal Velasquez’s job in the Phillies' rotation?

“Every time we have somebody come up and make a start it’s an opportunity to make a statement,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s an opportunity to create another opportunity. Yeah, there’s a lot of competition right now.”

Velasquez said he felt some soreness in his elbow and triceps while throwing his slider in his previous outing Monday in St. Louis. Velasquez was hit hard in that game and he rankled catcher J.T. Realmuto by shaking off a significant amount of pitches (see story)

Though the soreness was not as pronounced as it was Monday, Velasquez still felt discomfort in the elbow during his bullpen session Friday. He doesn’t believe it’s serious and believes he will be back quickly. Still, the team opted to place him on the 10-day injured list.

“I threw 30-some pitches and it seemed like it was progressing,” Velasquez said of his bullpen session. “But again, there was something lingering and it didn't give me the confidence to really start on Sunday. That's when I knew I needed to say something.”

Kapler watched Velasquez’s bullpen session Friday and mentioned that the pitcher threw some good curveballs. But the Phils weren’t about to take any chances with a pitcher saying he felt discomfort in his arm.

“We’re in a fortunate position where we have good pitchers at Triple A and we can play things like this situation with Vinny very conservatively,” Kapler said.

The depth at Triple A includes Nick Pivetta. The right-hander has pitched well since his demotion and he will be back at some point. The pitching depth — coupled with Velasquez’s frustrating inconsistency — has fueled external thoughts of using Velasquez as a one-inning power arm in the bullpen.

Could that transformation happen when Velasquez is ready to return?

“The answer to that question is: I don’t know,” Kapler said. “Let’s see how Cole Irvin looks tomorrow. We’ll decide who’s going to make the next start in the rotation as we gather more information. It would be especially premature to not have the hindsight of what Cole looked like and not have a little more information on Vinny before we start making determinations that far down the road.”

Kapler added that transitioning Velasquez to the bullpen “is not something we have been grinding on. ‘Oh, what do you think of Vinny in the bullpen?’ Those conversations are not leading us right now. But this question has come up how many times over the last calendar year? He’s got lightning stuff — it plays in the rotation, it plays in the bullpen.”

For the record, Velasquez said he was committed to making it as a starter.

“I’m still a starting pitcher,” he said. “I have a lot to accomplish. I’ve still got a lot of juice in me to throw in the towel just yet. My mindset is not to throw in the towel and give up. I still have a lot of starts ahead of me. Following J.T. [Realmuto]’s lead, I think, will guide me to the right path and make me the successful starter that I am.”

Irvin was the Phillies’ fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Oregon in 2016. He was the International League pitcher of the year in 2018 and is 16-4 with a 2.50 ERA in that league since the start of last season.

Irvin is a strike thrower with a deep mix of pitches. He won’t light up the radar gun. He focuses on getting outs and does that quite well (see story).

“He’s not a dominator,” Kapler said. “He’s a guy whose game is forcing the opposition to put the ball and get weak contact.

“We’re really excited to give him this opportunity. He’s really earned it. He profiles well against a club like the Royals because he’s left-handed and can control the running game. He’s quick to the plate and very competitive when it comes to controlling the running game. He has a history of throwing strikes, of not walking batters, and I think that profiles against this club. You can’t put these guys on base via the walk. You need to force them to put the ball in play.”

Many friends and members of Irvin’s family have made the trip to Kansas City from the West Coast, including his mom, Sandy.

She will watch her son’s big-league debut on Mother’s Day.

“The joy is overwhelming,” Cole Irvin said.

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At the Yard podcast: Predicting where Top 12 MLB free agents will sign

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At the Yard podcast: Predicting where Top 12 MLB free agents will sign

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman predict where the top 12 MLB free agents will land in Monday's At the Yard podcast.

• Anthony Rendon

• Gerrit Cole

• Stephen Strasburg

• Zack Wheeler

• Madison Bumgarner

• Josh Donaldson

• Mike Moustakas

• Rick Porcello

• Cole Hamels

• Hyun-Jin Ryu

• Nick Castellanos

• Didi Gregorius

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Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Throw a log on the hot stove.

Major League Baseball general managers will assemble in Phoenix for their annual meetings on Monday. The event, which ends Thursday, serves as the de facto starting point of the offseason and this will be a busy one, locally and industry wide.

The free-agent market is led by three stars of the recently completed World Series — starting pitching studs Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and hard-hitting third baseman Anthony Rendon. Strasburg and Rendon were part of the World Series champion Washington Nationals club and Cole starred for the American League champion Houston Astros. All three players are represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who a year ago used the general managers meetings as a pulpit to announce that “Harper’s Bazaar” had opened for business. Three and a half months later, Bryce Harper signed a mammoth, 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.

Harper led the Phillies in OPS (.882), homers (35) and RBIs (114) in his first season with the club, but the Phils, who led the NL East at the end of May, faded in June and again in September to finish in fourth place in the National League East, 12 games behind the second-place (and wild card) Nationals and 16 behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies have not had a winning season (they finished .500 in 2019) or made the playoffs since 2011 and impatience is raw from the fan base to the ownership level. Managing partner John Middleton ordered the ouster of manager Gabe Kapler, proven winner Joe Girardi is now at the helm and normally guarded general manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying, “No questions asked, it is time to win right now.” That statement makes this a crucial offseason for Klentak and the Phillies because this team must fill some serious holes if it is going to win right now.

The most glaring hole — or holes — reside in the starting rotation where the Phillies currently have just one dependable starting pitcher on their roster. After Aaron Nola, the Phils have reason to believe that a healthy Jake Arrieta (he had elbow surgery in September) and an inconsistent but promising Zach Eflin can contribute in 2020, but neither are a sure-thing and even if they make an impact, the Phils will need a lot more starting pitching than that, from the top of the rotation to the back end.

You can bet the Phils will be in on all the top arms on the free-agent market. Boras, who during Harper’s Bazaar built a chemistry with Middleton, will make sure of that. 

The Phillies will at least start the offseason in the sweepstakes for Cole and Strasburg and see where it takes them. Cole seems to have his eye on the West Coast and Strasburg could end up back in Washington, but the deep-pocketed Phils cannot be ruled out, especially this early in the offseason. The Phils will be in on other top starters such as Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler. Signing any one of these four would require the Phillies to forfeit their second pick in the 2020 draft. The Phils, with a new scouting director (Brian Barber) and a need to add talent to their prospect pipeline, are not keen on losing high-round selections, but their need for starting pitching is so acute and their thirst to win so desperate that it would not be surprising to see them sacrifice a pick for an impact arm.

Given the lack of depth in the rotation, the Phillies will cast their net in the lower end of the free-agent pool, as well. Cole Hamels has long spoken of a desire to finish his career in Philadelphia. Rick Porcello and others could also boost the back end of the rotation.

As nice as Rendon’s bat would look at third base — where there is a need — the Phils probably have to allot the bulk of their financial resources on starting pitching, not to mention locking up catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension. The Phils have been linked to third baseman Mike Moustakas, yet another Boras guy, the last two winters and this might be the time to try to grab him on a one- or two-year deal. He won’t cost nearly as much as Rendon and shouldn’t cost as much as free-agent Josh Donaldson, who is also expected to cost a draft pick after being extended a qualifying offer.

With Andrew McCutchen set in left field and Harper in right field, the Phils could pursue a short-term fit like Brett Gardner in center field, but they also could look to re-sign corner man Corey Dickerson, a good lefty stick, and try to get enough out of a McCutchen-Adam Haseley combination in center field. 

As for Odubel Herrera, it’s too early to tell if he will ever suit up for the Phillies again. The guess here is that he will not, but the Phillies still have several months to make that call. Only the need for a roster spot (the team currently has five openings) or the arrival of spring training will create urgency to make a decision on Herrera, if it already has not privately been made.

It’s kind of fitting that the GM meetings are being held in the Phoenix area. That is Scott Kingery’s hometown and he sits in the middle of this Phillies offseason. Depending on how the team maneuvers its way through the winter, Kingery could open the 2020 season at third base, shortstop, second base or center field. He could play third if the team does not bring in someone from the outside, shortstop if Cesar Hernandez moves on and Jean Segura moves to second base, as has been discussed internally, or second base if the team wants to play him at his best position. He also improved greatly in center field last season and could fill that spot, depending how this offseason shakes out.

There are many possibilities for this team that says it's time to win now.

Throw a log on the fire. The hot stove is warming. Baseball’s offseason gets chugging this week.

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