Phillies

Gabe Kapler and Vince Velasquez clear the air over Tuesday night's quick hook

Gabe Kapler and Vince Velasquez clear the air over Tuesday night's quick hook

CINCINNATI — Gabe Kapler and Vince Velasquez agreed on one thing.

It sucked.

That was the word they both used.

Velasquez was not pleased about being lifted from his start after three innings Tuesday night. The right-hander had hardly been economical with his pitches and Kapler did not think he “had his best stuff.” But that was not the reason Velasquez was lifted with a 2-1 lead. He was lifted because Kapler saw an opportunity to get some runs so he went to his bench and had Logan Morrison hit for Velasquez with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the fourth inning.

Morrison grounded into a double play. The Phillies eventually won the game, 6-2.

Kapler knew Velasquez was frustrated with the quick hook so he invited the pitcher into his office for a little air-clearing session Wednesday afternoon.

Both sides said the chat went extremely well.

Kapler explained that it’s September, that the Phillies are in a playoff chase and he’s going to be aggressive using every inch of his expanded roster.

Velasquez said he understood.

“I mean, it just sucks,” Velasquez said. “If you put yourself in my shoes you wouldn’t want to go three innings, right? I mean, there is some frustration there. But again, you have to understand the big picture and the big picture is winning. Bottom line.

“If there’s a situation that we need to capitalize on runs, he’s going to go for it. He’s going to put the best situation out there to win ballgames. And that’s his job as a manager.”

Kapler had no problem with Velasquez’s initial frustration and he welcomed the chance to hear out the pitcher.

“Vince is very open to having those kind of conversations,” Kapler said. “He always responds well to them. I think the coolest thing about chats like that is they’re learning experiences for both of us. I learn what’s on his mind, he learns what’s on mine. We dive a little bit deeper and that’s kind of relationships in general. Rather than sweeping things under the rug, you get them out in the open and talk about them right away and you can move on to your next steps in the day.”

Kapler said he knew the frustration that Velasquez felt. During the meeting, he told Velasquez of times during his playing career when he was called out of the on-deck circle and replaced by a pinch-hitter.

“One thing I shared with Vince is that when you don’t get an opportunity that you really want, somebody else is getting an opportunity that they really want,” Kapler said.

Kapler added that through experiences of personal disappointment, “You learn that your manager is trying to get what he perceives to be a marginal upgrade. It never stops sucking, but you get it, and you become more aware of it. You have to separate what we feel is sensible from the emotion of the moment for players and I completely understand that.”

Kapler’s main message to Velasquez was that, despite what happened Tuesday night, he had confidence in the pitcher.

“The ultimate demonstration of that is he’s going to start Sunday for us in a really big game [against the Mets]," Kapler said.

“When you hit for a guy early in a bases-loaded situation with a great weapon off the bench with a full bullpen in September, it’s not an indication that we don’t feel confident in somebody. It’s an indication that we have the kind of roster that can support a decision like that.”

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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