Phillies

Vinny Velo is stylin’ with skinny pants, leather slippers and seven innings of two-run ball

Vinny Velo is stylin’ with skinny pants, leather slippers and seven innings of two-run ball

PHOENIX — A couple of weeks ago, Vince Velasquez decided to change his look a little.

He put in an order for some new game pants, something tapered at the calf.

Skinny pants, you might say.

“Just a different look,” Velasquez said.

He laughed.

“Tell me I look sexy, that’s all.”

Um. That’s for someone else to say, but we can confirm this: Velasquez looked pretty good on the mound Monday night. He finally conquered his personal enemy, the middle innings, in helping the Phillies open a seven-game road trip with a 7-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The victory improved the Phillies to 59-53 and left them tied with Washington for the NL wild-card lead.

Velasquez completed six innings for just the second time in 14 starts this season. In all, he pitched seven innings of two-run ball.

Did he prove anything to himself?

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “It shows that I can do it. I can go deep into games.”

With Jake Arrieta, reduced to a five-inning pitcher by a bone spur in his right elbow, taking the mound on Tuesday night, the Phillies may need to go deep into their bullpen. So it was good that Velasquez produced his longest start of the season and did not tax the bullpen.

Velasquez did not have his best fastball early in the game and he struck out just three batters. But he got outs in key situations and kept his pitch count in check. He was backed by a couple of important double plays, one that he started with a cat-like break off the mound and a whirling dart to third base.

“I think Vinny likes being known as the best athlete on the field and he looked like it tonight,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

“I think that was one of the first times this season where he seemed to get better as the game matured. Around the fifth inning, the velocity started ticking up a little bit and you saw him executing at the top of the zone. Earlier in the game, he was struggling to get that ball up there. But he did a really good job staying efficient throughout and gave us a chance to win that game.

“There’s no reason this can’t be the catalyst for more confidence and belief in himself that he can pitch deep into game for us. I think that’s the kind of momentum we have to ride and those are the things right now that we have to cling to so there’s definitely reason for optimism there.”

A lot more than just starting pitching went right for the Phils. They played excellent defense in the infield (Rhys Hoskins) and outfield (Adam Haseley).

And they got a lot of timely hitting. They were 5 for 19 with runners in scoring position. They were 5 for 26 with runners in scoring position while losing two of three to the White Sox over the weekend.

Jean Segura, batting fifth, drove in a pair of runs with a pair of singles. Scott Kingery homered. Not to be outdone by Velasquez' new skinny-pants look, Bryce Harper killed his beard and carried his bat more upright. He had a pair of hits.

Even Velasquez made a contribution at the plate with a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning that helped set up a run.

Those skinny pants — he said he ordered them at the urging of some friends — weren’t the only fashion statement that Velasquez made on the night. He conducted his post-game interview wearing leather slippers, the kind a granddad might wear around a crackling wintertime fireplace. Only thing was, this was Phoenix and it was 109 degrees outside, 76 under the dome.

“They’re comfortable,” Velasquez said. “They’re just relaxing slippers. Find whatever you have to do to prepare yourself for the game and be a little more relaxed.”

As Lenny Dykstra once said, whatever it takes, dude.

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With uncertainty at the top of the rotation, can Phillies' other starters step up?

With uncertainty at the top of the rotation, can Phillies' other starters step up?

There was a lot of talk over the winter and into the spring about the Phillies having a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation.

Rightfully so. 

The Phillies handed free agent Zack Wheeler a five-year, $118 million contract in December to slide into the second spot in the rotation behind established ace Aaron Nola. With Nola and Wheeler at the top of the rotation, the rest of the arms could simply fall into place behind them. The Phillies had every right to think their pitching staff would be vastly improved in 2020, significantly better than the unit that struggled throughout the 2019 season.

Times have changed.

As the Phillies ramp up "summer camp" at Citizens Bank Park to prepare for an abbreviated 60-game season, there is suddenly plenty of uncertainty pertaining to their top two starting pitchers. 

Nola missed the first three days of camp before reporting on Monday. He was kept away from the team due to COVID-19 protocols — Nola didn't test positive for the virus but he was in contact with someone who did (see story). It's certainly good news that Nola surfaced at camp and threw a bullpen session. But 18 days out from opening day, it's a stretch to think the Phillies will have the best version of Nola out of the gates this season.

Then there's Wheeler, who admitted on Sunday that he has reservations about playing this season with his wife set to deliver the couple's first child at the end of July. Wheeler mentioned he could reconsider his decision whether to play after the baby arrives. 

The combination of Nola's late arrival and Wheeler's uncertain status has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the rotation. Will the other starters step up? Let's examine that question on a case-by-case basis. 

Jake Arrieta

The 34-year old Arrieta enters the final year of a three-year, $75 million contract he signed prior to the 2018 season. The Phillies have not gotten their money's worth out of that deal — Arrieta is 18-19 with a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts during two injury-plagued seasons in Philadelphia. He pitched through a knee injury two years ago, then had his 2019 season cut short due to an elbow injury. 

In one of our "Phillies Return to Play'"shows last week, Jim Salisbury identified Arrieta as perhaps the biggest X-factor in this 2020 Phillies season. 

Can he resemble the Arrieta that won a Cy Young in 2015 and helped the Cubs to a World Series title in 2016? The Phillies sure hope so, particularly with the question marks surrounding the two guys ahead of him in the rotation.

Zach Eflin

Eflin is poised to have a breakout 2020 season, even if he only makes a maximum of 12 starts. At 26 years old and entering his fifth MLB season, Eflin has shown the potential to be a very good big-league starter. He just needs to prove he can perform at a high level consistently.

He had a 4.13 ERA in 32 games (28 starts) last season. There was plenty of good (a pair of complete game victories) and bad (a late-season demotion to the bullpen). 

Eflin should benefit greatly from the presence of new pitching coach Bryan Price. Eflin is at his best when he's throwing his sinker down in the zone, not trying to get hitters out with high fastballs as former pitching coach Chris Young instructed him to do. 

Look for Eflin to pitch to his strengths this season. It could translate into a career year, albeit an abbreviated one. 

Vince Velasquez/Nick Pivetta

It's easy to lump Velasquez and Pivetta together due to their many similarities. Both guys have terrific stuff and have looked dominant at times in their careers. But they both have struggled mightily to find any type of consistency. 

Both Velasquez and Pivetta have been used as relievers. Is that how they will be used this season? Time will tell, but for now they are competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. If either of them can finally harness all of their natural talent, it will be a major boost to the Phillies pitching staff.  

Spencer Howard

Initially, the 23-year old Howard was expected to start his 2020 season in the minor leagues. He was also expected to have an innings limit and eventually be shut down late in the season. Due to the events of the last four months, plans have changed. The organization's top pitching prospect will have every opportunity to crack the opening day roster and perhaps the starting rotation. 

Howard threw off the mound at CBP to live hitters on Monday. If he impresses over the next two weeks, don't be surprised to see him play a prominent role right from the outset of the regular season. 

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Phillies' Aaron Nola: I did not have the virus

Phillies' Aaron Nola: I did not have the virus

Aaron Nola reported to Phillies camp on Monday, threw in the bullpen, then announced that he did not have COVID-19.

“All my tests have been negative,” the right-hander said.

Nola said his absence from camp — which officially began Friday — was because he came in contact with someone who tested positive.

“I’m glad to clear this up,” Nola said. “I was exposed to another person who tested positive. I had no symptoms. By MLB protocol, I had to stay home for seven days.”

Nola said he “stayed home” in the Philadelphia area. He added that he did not know where the exposure happened. He had previously been in Clearwater and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, his hometown.

Nola would not say if he had been exposed to a teammate or a club official who had tested positive. The Phillies have had several positive tests.

Nola has thrown regularly during the shutdown. He said his arm felt good and that he expects to face hitters in the next few days. That would put him in line to start during the first week of the season, perhaps even the July 24 season opener. The schedule will be announced tonight.

“I’m glad to be back,” he said after his workout Monday. “It felt good to throw off a nice mound.

“Everything felt normal, except we’re wearing masks." 

Manager Joe Girardi said Nola looked good during his bullpen session. Girardi would not put a projected date on Nola's first start, saying he wanted to gauge the pitcher for a few days before he locked anything in.

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