'A force to be reckoned with,' Vince Velasquez turns in another stellar start

'A force to be reckoned with,' Vince Velasquez turns in another stellar start


The Phillies have made tremendous progress this season. They are 61-48 and in first place in the NL East after 109 games.

They won just 66 games all of last season.

Within the team’s improvement has been the individual progress of several key players.

Vince Velasquez might be tops on that list.

Since joining the Phillies in a December 2015 trade from Houston, Velasquez has flashed dazzling potential and the occasional eye-popping start. But the right-hander’s time in a Phillies uniform has been plagued by too much inconsistency and too many nagging injuries.

Until now.

Vince Velasquez is healthy. And he's getting it. All that talent is coming together. He is rewarding the Phillies’ patience with him, quieting the doubters who said he belonged in the bullpen.

The right-hander, who turned 26 less than two months ago, pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings to lead a 5-1 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night (see first take). He gave up just two hits, walked one and struck out seven.

Three months ago, manager Gabe Kapler said there was “a brilliant pitcher” lurking deep inside of Velasquez.

It is coming out now. Since June 25, Velasquez has allowed just five earned runs in 33 1/3 innings over his last seven outings, six of which have been starts. He has 32 strikeouts and has held opposing hitters to a .168 batting average over that span. For the season, he is 8-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 113 2/3 innings.

“I think at this point, he's proven that he is not just capable but thriving,” Kapler said. “The last month has been really impressive. He's been efficient. He has proven over the course of the last month that he is a force to be reckoned with.”

This is what everyone has been waiting for from Velasquez.

Including himself.

“I would say yes,” he said. “It seems that everything is falling into place now. I’m attacking hitters and following the game plan.”

A lot of things are falling into place for the Phillies. They have won three in a row. They are a half-game up on Atlanta in the NL East. Rhys Hoskins is sizzling at the plate. So is Maikel Franco. And the bullpen has been strong.

Velasquez’s big night included a double. He came around to score the Phillies’ first run on a double by Hoskins, who has 15 RBIs in his last 13 games.

After Velasquez departed, Victor Arano and Seranthony Dominguez both turned in clutch relief work in a close game. The Phillies finally broke it open with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, two coming on a double by Roman Quinn, who entered the game in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement for Hoskins in left field.

Quinn, with his speed, quick bat and strong arm, came up from Triple A last week and has already made the Phillies’ bench better. Kapler will continue to use him to help protect late leads.

“We could see some of that,” Kapler said. “I spoke to Rhys about it. Rhys is always a pro’s pro and completely understands how good Roman is out there and on the bases. When we can get Roman Quinn in the outfield, we’re going to try to do it. He’s got game-changing athleticism, game-changing speed.”

The Phillies won the game in front of a crowd of 33,737. There was some of that old electricity in the air as 2008 World Series hero Shane Victorino was honored before the game (see story). The Phillies have won three in a row and are giving fans plenty of reason to come to games.

“The whole excitement and hype going around the stadium generates the momentum that we strive to have,” Velasquez said. “It drove me to come out on top today and pitch a little better. My whole mentality was to attack hitters. But the fact that we saw fans get on their feet the way they do is a solid inspiration of what we’ll be having the next couple weeks, few months. It’s something I can’t wait for it to happen.”

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J.T. Realmuto feeling 'blessed' as he heads into arbitration showdown with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto feeling 'blessed' as he heads into arbitration showdown with Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto will participate in Tuesday’s workout before taking a flight to Phoenix for Wednesday’s salary arbitration hearing.

Realmuto is dreading the long flight, not the hearing.

“One way or another, I’m going to be playing baseball in Philly this year,” he said. “I’m going to either be making $10 million or $12 million, and I’ll be happy either way. I’m blessed to get to do what I do for a living for a lot of money so either way, I’m happy.”

Realmuto is actually seeking $12.4 million. The Phillies have filed at $10 million. The arbitration panel will select one figure or the other. There is no middle ground (more details here).

Realmuto, who made $5.9 million last year, is in his third and final year of arbitration and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. To date, the highest-paid catcher in that class was Matt Wieters, who avoided a hearing with Baltimore and made $8.275 million 2015. Catcher Mike Napoli actually made more — $9.4 million — in a negotiated settlement with the Texas Rangers in 2012, but he was in his fourth year of arbitration because of his Super-Two status with the Anaheim Angels in 2009.

So, no matter how the arbitration panel rules, Realmuto’s 2020 salary will be a record for an arbitration-eligible catcher.

Once Realmuto’s 2020 salary is established, the Phillies will turn their attention to negotiating a long-term contract extension with him. Realmuto is expected to seek in the neighborhood of $23 million per season, matching Joe Mauer’s record salary for a catcher, over a five- or six-year deal. 

The Phillies would like to get a deal done by opening day to avoid any potential distractions. Would Realmuto negotiate during the season?

“We haven’t gotten there yet,” Realmuto said. “I’ll talk with my agent and we’ll communicate with Matt (Klentak, the general manager) and let him know.”

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Joe Girardi asks Phillies players to give him their hearts — and their trots

Joe Girardi asks Phillies players to give him their hearts — and their trots

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Joe Girardi officially opened his first Phillies spring training camp by telling the players to give him their hearts.

“He knows if he can get our heart, he’ll get our best on the field,” J.T. Realmuto said.

Both Girardi and managing partner John Middleton stressed that the goal was to play deep into October. The Phillies have not been to the postseason since 2011.

Middleton reminded the players of the passion that Philadelphia fans have and urged them to give back to the fans by playing the game hard and respecting it.

Girardi roamed the fields of Carpenter Complex during the workout. He lightened the mood at the end of a base-running drill by asking a group of players, including Jean Segura, to show off their home run trots.

“Just to have some fun,” Girardi said after the workout.

The home-run trot "drill" came with some instructions.

“Make sure you run hard before you know it's out,” he told the players. “The big thing is if you run hard to first, there is a great chance it'll be out by then. Then you don't get caught on first base or caught on second base when you should be a base ahead. Just run hard.”

Phillies pitchers will begin throwing live batting practice during Tuesday’s workout.

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