CHICAGO — Vince Velasquez threw 30 pitches from a bullpen mound at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.
“Full bore, no setbacks, no pullbacks, no whoas,” he said. “I threw all my pitches with intensity.”
Velasquez believes he is fully recovered from the sore elbow that landed him on the injured list two weeks ago, and the team agrees that he is in good health.
So what’s next?
Does he throw another bullpen session?
Does he go out on a minor-league rehab start?
Does he get optioned to Triple A?
Does he join the bullpen?
Does he go right back into the starting rotation?
Velasquez believes he belongs back in the rotation, but there’s been a development there. Lefty Cole Irvin has come up from the minors and pitched well. He was poised to make his third start Wednesday night in Wrigley Field and another good outing would certainly ensure his getting another start. When you have a hot hand, you ride it.
For the record, manager Gabe Kapler does not believe Velasquez has the right to simply retake his spot in the rotation once he’s ready to go.
“I don’t really see it that way,” Kapler said. “I don’t see it as a right. I see it as what’s best for the Phillies. If it’s best that he come back and rejoin the rotation, then he will. And if what’s best for the Phillies is for Jerad Eickhoff and Cole Irvin to continue to take down starts and utilize Vinny in some other fashion, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll always put the best interests of the organization first and because we don’t have all the information, it’s very difficult to make the decision right now.”
Kapler said he considers Velasquez one of his 13 best pitchers so that would seem to indicate that the club does not plan to option him to Triple A, but you never know.
If Velasquez stays in the majors and doesn’t return to the rotation, he will have to go to the bullpen. That idea has been talked about in the past and it seems more real than ever now. Even Velasquez mentioned the possibility on Wednesday.
Velasquez mentioned that pitching out of the bullpen does carry some appeal — especially if he could be a closer.
“I want to be the ninth-inning guy,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind trying it.”
But as intriguing as being a closer would be for Velasquez, he said he was not ready to give up on being a starter yet.
“I’m not throwing in the towel on that yet,” he said. “I want to ride out being a starter. But I do think closing would be cool in the future.”
The Phillies had problems at closer Tuesday night. With half the bullpen getting a rest because of heavy workload, Juan Nicasio was pressed into service in the ninth inning. He blew a one-run lead and the Phillies suffered an excruciating 3-2 loss to the Cubs (see story).
Wonder what Velasquez could have done as a closer in that game?
Wonder what the Phillies’ bullpen availability chart would have looked like if he were working out of the bullpen as a multi-inning guy pitching in the fifth through seventh innings in close games? If Velasquez could succeed in that role, Kapler might be able to hold back his high-leverage bullpen arms and use them only late in games.
Kapler admitted that he has dreamed on Velasquez as a multi-inning, high-leverage, bridge guy. Could we see it soon?
“I think it requires more discussion,” Kapler said. “I don’t think we’re there to make that assessment yet. I think that those conversations are ongoing and they take some time to crystallize and they haven’t quite crystallized yet. They’re more in the discussion stages and not in the clear action-step stage.
“But the potential that he fills that role is real, meaning he has the physical capability and tools to make that work. It’s been on the table for quite [some time]. In theory, I love it. But the obvious flipside is: Don’t all [Velasquez’s strengths] help you in the rotation, as well?”
Some of this is going to be answered by Irvin over the coming days and weeks.
But moving Vince Velasquez to the bullpen is an idea that seems to be getting closer.
And speaking of the bullpen, Kapler responded to Pat Neshek’s saying that he did not have enough time to warm up in the bullpen (see story) during Monday night’s game:
“If Pat needs a certain amount of time to get ready to come into the game, it’s my job to be responsive to that and to give him plenty of time to come into the game, give him plenty of time to get loose to come into the game," Kapler said. "The only thing that matters here is that Pat feels like he didn’t have enough time to get loose and my responsibility is to ensure that he has enough time to get loose and that’s it.”
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