With seven relievers on the injured list and the latest of the wounded — Seranthony Dominguez — likely out for the remainder of the season, the Phillies need something to feel good about in their bullpen.
Could Vince Velasquez end up being their Dr. Feelgood?
He certainly was Friday night.
Two weeks after coming off the injured list himself and moving to the bullpen, Velasquez registered three high-power, high-pressure outs to help the Phillies beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-2, in front of an appreciative crowd of 32,058 at Citizens Bank Park.
Zach Eflin pitched well, Jay Bruce continued to swing his magic wand (he has four homers and nine RBIs in four games since joining the Phils), and the Reds made two errors that led to two runs as the Phillies maintained a two-game lead in the NL East and improved to a robust 21-11 at home.
Just as important as all of the above was the work of the bullpen. Lefty Jose Alvarez got two big outs against the middle of the Reds’ order in the seventh to protect a one-run lead. Velasquez got three outs, including two Ks, to protect a one-run lead in the eighth, and Hector Neris closed out the two-run game for his 13th save.
That’s seven scoreless innings — in close contests — for the bullpen over the last two games, both wins.
Velasquez, the talented but inconsistent right-hander, has been under the microscope since moving to the bullpen two weeks ago. He’s got the stuff to be a force late in games, but can he actually put it all together in that role? So far, he’s made six relief appearances — three good ones, one OK one, and two bad ones.
With Dominguez out, manager Gabe Kapler entrusted Velasquez with the eighth inning in a one-run game. He got Jesse Winker to ground out before striking out Yasiel Puig and Jose Iglesias. Velasquez' fastball hit 96.8 mph on the gun.
“We knew we were going to put him in a situation like that prior to the game,” Kapler said. “We knew that we were going to put him in a high-leverage situation. It felt like it made sense to give Vince a clean inning and the bottom part of the lineup to demonstrate that he had his fastball. He did. He had a pretty good slider, as well, and got swings and misses. He got on his fastball right away, which is exactly what we ask of him. If he pitches like that, he can pitch in any inning.”
Does Velasquez become more important with Dominguez out?
“I think he does,” Kapler said. “I think that’s spot on. We lose a guy who took on high-leverage innings for us and if we can gain one in Vince it makes the blow a lot less powerful. It’s going to be a blow nonetheless, but it certainly softens it.”
Before the game, general manager Matt Klentak indicated that Dominguez could be facing Tommy John surgery, which would put him out for the rest of this season and a chunk of next season. Klentak stopped short of saying anything definitive because Dominguez is slated to receive a second opinion.
Dr. Feelgood unwittingly gave the second opinion when asked if he was ready to pick up Dominguez’ high-leverage innings.
“Yeah,” Velasquez said. “Unfortunately he's down for the rest of the year. I don't mind coming in and try to fill in for him. I know it's a big role. It's a different mindset going into that inning, but I'm fully capable physically, mentally, whatever it may be, to come in and close the doors in that inning and then allow Neris to come in and shut the door like he did today.
“Today was a great demonstration of what could continue happening. I'm very optimistic about any type of role. I'm just always on my feet getting ready and waiting for that phone call. I mean, it's an honor to be in that position if it is my role and just go from there.”
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