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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Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

This wasn't how Ben Lively envisioned his first full year in South Korea.

The former Phillie is now living in Daegu, where the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea began and quickly spread. After 14 days by himself looking at the same four walls, Lively is finally able to practice again today. 

"I'm just ready to get out of my apartment. It's been 14 days straight," Lively told NBC10's John Clark. "So far it's been ... now I know what to do when I'm bored by myself in an apartment for two weeks.

"We had spring training in Okinawa, Japan, then we actually got sent back to America for like a week and a half. We came back and the next day they followed the Korean law saying that all foreign travelers have to be quarantined 14 days just to go outside. 

"If you got caught outside, there was a chance you could be deported. Wouldn't be good."

Tuesday was Lively's last day under quarantine. He was given a COVID-19 test the second day he was back in South Korea (March 26) and was re-tested this week. He says all of his teammates foreign to Korea tested negative.

Lively's Korean teammates have not been tested, per his knowledge. "I think the only time they test a person that has been here is when they have symptoms," he said.

South Korea has seemingly done a better job of containing coronavirus than any country in the world. As of April 8, the country has seen 10,384 reported cases and 200 total deaths. The number of new cases per day has ranged between 47 and 152 since March 12, according to Worldometer.

Opening day for the Korea Baseball Organization was supposed to be March 28, two days after MLB's opening day. Instead, the KBO is just opening practices back up to its foreign players and hopes to open its season by early May.

"The facilities we have at our field, there's going to be no pedestrians or fans, and they clean it every day," Lively said. "You don't necessarily have to wear a mask there, it's just going to be our team, small group of people. When you're going around though you've definitely got to wear a mask."

On Tuesday, an ESPN report outlined an ambitious potential plan by MLB to play regular-season games in empty stadiums in Arizona by late-May or early-June. The commissioner's office released a statement later in the day saying that numerous options are under consideration.

In South Korea, teams still plan to travel as of now.

"We don't have anything like that here. We're gonna travel, go city to city," Lively said. "It's definitely slowing down here, there's barely any new cases here now. They have it on pretty good lockdown over here. We still have no idea what the plan is after the games, whether we go back to the hotel or keep traveling back and forth."

Lively is eager to compete and carve out his role. He spent three seasons in the majors, pitching 112⅓ of his 120 innings with the Phillies. He made 15 starts for the 2017 Phils and went 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA.

The Phillies acquired him on New Year's Eve 2015 from the Reds for Marlon Byrd. In Lively's first year in the Phillies' system, he went 18-5 with a 2.69 ERA, splitting time between Double A and Triple A. He was let go by the Phillies late in the 2018 season and went to the Royals and Diamondbacks before his release in Arizona last August.

In Korea, Lively is teammates with former Phillie David Buchanan, who pitched here in 2014 and 2015. Buchanan lives a building over from Lively.

"Buchanan had a plan for his wife and kid to come over here the first week we started," Lively said. "I can see how tough it is on him. ... I tell everyone it still feels like a movie, can't really grasp what's going on still."

The rest of the baseball world is watching Korea to see how the KBO fares in its attempt to bring baseball back by May.

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Phillies' Andrew McCutchen's relatable facemask story is amazing, and helpful

Phillies' Andrew McCutchen's relatable facemask story is amazing, and helpful

We say it often, but right now pro athletes really are just like us: learning how to deal with social distancing strategies and facemask recommendations.

Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen is working on getting healthy in case the Major League Baseball season begins this spring, but he also needs to hit the store now and then for everyday supplies. 

After Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf advised all Pennsylvania residents to wear facemasks in public to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, McCutchen threw together a "bootleg" facemask to protect himself and those around him, but he was feeling a little... embarrassed by how DIY the mask was.

That is, until he saw what everyone else was wearing:

Between the acting, the wardrobe changes, and the sound effects, that's some Oscar-worthy work from McCutchen. 

(Will he start challenging Matisse Thybulle for the title of Content King?)

Outside of giving us a laugh, McCutchen also makes a good point and sends an important message: We're all dealing with this different world as one team.

While you might think putting on a facemask looks funny, or is a little uncomfortable, you're certainly not alone - even baseball stars are dealing with it - so let's tackle this, together.

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