You ask why the Phillies don’t turn Vince Velasquez into a reliever.
This is why.
Starting pitchers are valuable and the Phillies don’t want to give up on trying to develop Velasquez as one before they are absolutely sure he can’t do it. Performances like Thursday’s support the Phillies’ thinking with the talented but inconsistent right-hander.
Six days after an awful start — maybe the worst of his career, in fact — Velasquez authored one of his best in leading the Phillies past the Colorado Rockies, 9-3, at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday afternoon (see first take).
Velasquez used his power four-seam fastball effectively — he threw that pitch 57 times and got eight swing and misses on it — and controlled the inside part of the strike zone on his way to 6 2/3 innings of one-hit ball. Velasquez had a no-hitter cooking until a two-out walk extended the seventh inning and gave Trevor Story the opportunity to break up the bid with an RBI double. Velasquez exited at 105 pitches after that hit. The Phillies’ offense piled on in the late innings and the team clinched its first series win since May 21-23.
Rhys Hoskins (three RBIs) and Nick Williams (two RBIs) both homered and slumping Odubel Herrera showed signs of breaking out with a pair of singles.
But Velasquez was the story with those 6 2/3 innings of one-hit, two-run ball. He walked two and struck out six.
From his post in left field, Hoskins thought Velasquez was going to get the no-hitter.
“I mean, he's got that kind of stuff, right?” Hoskins said. “That can be him every time out. It was nice to see him pitch. He made pitches when he needed to. He didn't get into a ton of three-ball counts, which I know is big for him, obviously, trying to get deeper into games. But we needed him. We needed him today. It was a big win, big game for us and he showed up.”
The outing came six days after Velasquez had one of those starts that left people screaming, “Make him a reliever!” Velasquez was lit up for nine hits and 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings by the Milwaukee Brewers in that game.
The big difference in this game? Poise. Velasquez kept his emotions in check on the mound. And location of pitches. He threw his fastball inside to hitters, you know, made them a little uncomfortable.
“That was part of the game plan and it actually made things a whole lot easier,” Velasquez said.
Catcher Andrew Knapp made sure Velasquez followed the game plan.
“I think we've kind of built a relationship where Vince kind of gives me the reins to go out and think for him sometimes,” Knapp said. “The stuff is electric, so when he can command the fastball at the top of the zone, it opens up so much for him. We went inside a couple times and kind of brushed some guys off the plate a little bit and that opened up some stuff for us.
“That was the best I've seen him battle. Everything was lined up and we had a really good game plan going in and he kind of trusted himself to go out and make pitches. That's a tough lineup, so for him to go out and do something like that is really good.”
Velasquez, who turned 26 last week, said he wasn’t thinking about a no-hitter as he kept retiring hitters. Truth be told, it would have been difficult for him to complete the no-no with his high pitch count. Had he retired Story at 105 pitches, he probably would have gone out for the eighth inning, manager Gabe Kapler said, but on a short leash.
“As badly as I want him to achieve greatness and a no-hitter, I would never put him at risk,” Kapler said. “I might push him past the point of comfort but I won’t put him at risk long term.”
Velasquez left the mound to a standing ovation. Six days earlier, there had been some boos.
And a much-needed win for the Phillies, who head to Milwaukee at 35-31.