vince velasquez

Former Phillies and Astros closer Ken Giles says he'd return 2017 World Series ring if asked

Former Phillies and Astros closer Ken Giles says he'd return 2017 World Series ring if asked

Only two members of the 2017 Houston Astros team which won the World Series and was eventually outed and shamed for cheating had ties to the Phillies.

There was closer Ken Giles, whom the Phillies traded to Houston in December 2015 for a package including Vince Velasquez. And there was Charlie Morton, a frustrating example of the Phillies' inability to strike gold with a low-cost veteran. Morton made just four starts with the Phils in 2016 before tearing his hamstring and then finding immense success with the Astros and Rays over the next three years.

While Morton's run with Houston was incredible (29-10, 3.36 ERA in 55 starts), Giles' was up and down. He had a 2.30 ERA with 34 saves in the regular season for the 2017 Astros but struggled mightily in the playoffs, allowing 10 runs in 7⅔ with a blown save and two losses.

Giles, a Toronto Blue Jay since a midseason trade from Houston in 2018, is in the news this week because of how he responded to a question about the Astros' deceitful ways.

Asked by the Toronto Star if he would give up his 2017 World Series ring if asked, Giles said, “Whatever they ask, I would oblige. Because what was going on at the time was not OK.”

Giles had a strange run for him in Houston marked by highs and lows. He has certainly benefited from his change of scenery. He posted a 1.87 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings in 2019 for Toronto, where things have stabilized for the former seventh-round pick of the Phils.

Meanwhile, Velasquez has yet to pan out in Philadelphia. That trade, the first big one made by Phillies GM Matt Klentak, was made because a top-notch closer was a luxury on a rebuilding team and Velasquez was perceived to offer more value because he could (theoretically) give a team six innings every fifth day.

That still hasn't happened and this spring may be Velasquez' final opportunity to win a job in the Phillies' rotation.

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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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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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