Phillies

This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

CLEARWATER, Fla. – In four seasons with the Phillies, Vince Velasquez has teased with his potential and frustrated with his inconsistency.

But at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

Standing in front of his locker at Spectrum Field on Monday afternoon, Velasquez made a pack of reporters break into laughter after his spring debut against the Baltimore Orioles.

“I threw 26 pitches in two innings – which is a shocker,” he said comically.

Running high pitch counts early in games has been one of the reasons for Velasquez’ frustrating inconsistency.

“The past three or four years, it’s always been an issue,” the 27-year-old right-hander said.

He’s trying to address the shortcoming – and several others – this spring under new pitching coach Bryan Price, who just might be the most popular guy in camp right now, at least with a pitching staff that is eating up everything he has to say, especially when it comes to pitching down in the strike zone.

“I’ve developed a lot of confidence with Bryan and really trust in his work,” Velasquez said. “I’ve told you guys so many times that I have that confidence to be that pitcher and I think Bryan is the guy who is going to pull that out of me.”

When Velasquez says, “that pitcher,” he means, that starting pitcher. He knows he’s in a battle for the fifth starter’s job. He knows about all the talk of possibly ending up in the bullpen when camp breaks.

But he wants to start.

“I know what the task is at hand,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what I have to do to earn that spot. Today was a good display of what I can be. It seemed like everything was working in my favor. I walked the first guy and then got some ground balls. I executed pitches down in the zone.”

Velasquez allowed just one hit, a walk and he struck out one in his two innings of work. The Phillies won the game, 8-7.

Velasquez is competing mostly with Nick Pivetta for the No. 5 starter’s job. Lefty Ranger Suarez, who will get a start Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, is also in the mix.

Manager Joe Girardi has stressed that the competition for jobs has not really started yet, that the first couple of starts are a time to prepare for the competition that will come in March. But he is clearly watching. He liked what he saw of Velasquez on Monday. He especially liked the economy of pitches.

“He was very efficient,” Girardi said. “That's how you get deep in games. If you're throwing 20 pitches every inning, it's not a very long night.”

At least not for the starter.

Sometimes it is for the team.

Girardi mentioned how much he liked seeing Velasquez execute pitches down in the strike zone. Last year, Velasquez was encouraged to work the top of the strike zone. He has the giddy-up on his fastball to do that, but locating the pitch was a problem and poorly located pitches up in the zone turn into trouble and short outings.

“He got outs down in the zone, not just up in the zone, which he's done a lot in the past,” Girardi said. “But he got outs down in the zone. Because he did that, he was pretty efficient. He got a strikeout down there. He got a double play down there. So, I was encouraged by what he did.

“He’s pitched down before. But then they strictly went up. So, it's just retraining your brain and your mechanics. He was working really hard with Bryan on it. Just using both. Why take one weapon away from you? Use both. A lot of times, when you have the ability to pitch down, it makes pitching up more effective. If you see the same thing every time, you get used to it.”

Velasquez believes he was too predictable last season, that he got away from throwing his changeup and lived too high in the zone with his fastball. He still wants to elevate and has the stuff to do it, but he also wants to work the lower part of the zone with his fastball like he did Monday.

“I was living at the top of the zone 95 percent of the time,” he said. “Every game plan was always at the top of the zone, so, again, you’ve got to learn how to change speeds and live up and down and in and out.

“I have the weapon to go up in the zone. That pitch just makes it even more useful to go down in the zone. You can’t be too predictable in this game.”

It’s too early to predict whether Velasquez will end up in the rotation or the bullpen. But if his work the rest of the spring is as efficient as it was Monday, he will give Phillies decision-makers something to think about.

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Virus has Phillies in holding pattern with J.T. Realmuto and Seranthony Dominguez

Virus has Phillies in holding pattern with J.T. Realmuto and Seranthony Dominguez

Because of the coronavirus health crisis and the delay in starting the Major League Baseball season, the Phillies remain in a holding pattern on a couple of significant baseball matters, general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday.

It's still unclear whether reliever Seranthony Dominguez will opt to have his injured right elbow surgically repaired. The health crisis has prevented Dominguez from getting a second opinion from orthopedic surgeon James Andrews. Dominguez is currently with family in his native Dominican Republic.

"Medicine is not always black and white," Klentak said. "There's a possibility it may head down that (surgical) road, but until he gets the second opinion, we have no firm declaration. For a lot of players, surgery is a last option, particularly when the surgery keeps you out as long as Tommy John surgery does. Before we go down that road, we want to make sure everyone is in agreement on what the right course of action is."

Dominguez saw Andrews shortly after injuring his elbow in early June last season. Surgery was not recommended at that time, but Dominguez missed the remainder of the season. He had a setback in August and again in March and all signs point to his needing surgery. Andrews would be a likely person to handle the surgery, but he is not seeing patients at the moment because of the health crisis.

Surgery, whenever it happens, would sideline Dominguez for more than a year.

The other matter currently on hold involves All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and the team's effort to sign him to a contract extension before he becomes a free agent in the fall. The two sides had begun negotiations in February, but those talks, by mandate from Major League Baseball, are now on hold because of the health crisis.

Could the freeze on negotiations and the uncertainty of whether or not there will be a 2020 season hurt the Phillies in their quest to keep Realmuto off the free-agent market?

"Whenever we resume playing, we'll see what the circumstances are and re-engage," Klentak said. "Nobody can predict what the parameters will be at that point or what will happen, but I think everyone knows we love J.T. and he's a player we'd love to have for the long haul."

Thursday would have been the Phillies' home opener. They had been scheduled to play their first seven games on the road before MLB suspended action on March 12 and encouraged players to head home. Training facilities have subsequently been closed except to a handful of players who are rehabilitating from injuries. 

MLB still hopes to have a season in some form, but nothing is certain. Like the rest of the world, it is at the mercy of the virus.

"I don't have enough information to know what's going to happen and I'm not sure anyone does," Klentak said. "What I am confident about is owners, players, front offices, fans, media, everybody is aligned in wanting to play baseball as quickly as we can. When all parties are as aligned as that, it gives me confidence that we'll get back as soon as we can get back. But I'm not in a position to make any predictions as to when that might happen.

"We'll do the best we can in the interim to prepare for the season. If it's a traditional season, we'll be prepared. If it's a modified season, we'll be prepared. I have a lot of confidence in league operations."

A resumed spring training would be required before any type of regular season, but Klentak would not speculate on what that might look like.

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Layoffs? Pay cuts? Phillies hope to avoid measures like that with full-time staff

Layoffs? Pay cuts? Phillies hope to avoid measures like that with full-time staff

The suspension of the Major League Baseball season due to the coronavirus health crisis has already hurt the revenues of all teams and will continue to do so as long as the game is shut down.

This has some people who work for teams all over baseball concerned about their jobs. 

Every MLB team, according to sources, has informed its full-time employees that business will run as usual through the end of April at which point teams will assess their respective situations.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak on Thursday was asked about the potential for layoffs or salary cuts within the organization.

"That's a situation that is not unique to baseball, unfortunately," Klentak said. "A lot of decisions will be made above my pay grade, obviously. For all of us, we are hopeful that we'll resume and not have to take measures like that. We trust that the Phillies are owned and run by very good people — and have been for a long time. Everybody is trying to do the best thing right now."

Layoffs and salary cuts were a big issue during the work stoppage in 1994-95. Some teams did cut full-time staff and pay. The Phillies did not.

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