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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