Phillies may need to step back with Vince Velasquez
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez described himself as “clueless” following yet another disappointing outing.
The young righty took the loss as the Phils dropped a 6-3 decision to the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon.
Velasquez allowed five earned runs on seven hits over 5.1 innings against the Bucs. As is frequently the case, he started out fast, retiring eight of the first nine Pittsburgh batters that he faced.
With the Phillies leading 1-0, the Pirates finally got to Velasquez with two outs in the bottom of the third inning. A single and a walk put two men on, and then Andrew McCutchen delivered an RBI single to tie things up.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates took the lead thanks to a leadoff home run off the bat of David Freese. That was still the score entering the bottom of the sixth inning, when Velasquez atypically unraveled.
With one out, a walk, a single, and a throwing error on catcher Cameron Rupp on a pick-off play left Pittsburgh runners at second and third. Francisco Cervelli then delivered a two-run single to push the Pirates lead out to a 4-1 margin.
That was the end of the Velasquez’ day, as he was relieved by Mark Leiter Jr, who didn’t help matters any. Leiter walked the first batter he faced, and then surrendered a two-out, two-run single to Adam Frazier to give the Pirates a 6-1 lead.
“I’m just clueless right now. I’m just running around like a chicken without a head. I don’t know what I’ve got to do, but I just know there’s something. . . . I have to break it down little by little. Literally, if I have to start over or whatever the situation might be. I need to break it down and not put so much pressure on myself.”
His failure to get through the sixth inning is not unusual. Velasquez pitched into the seventh just three times last season in his 24 starts. This year, he has reached the seventh just once over his first eight trips to the mound.
Velasquez still overpowers hitters. He has now recorded 197 strikeouts over 173.2 innings with the Phillies. But pitch counts remain an issue. He is frequently over the 90-pitch mark by the fifth or sixth inning due to command and control issues.
There has been talk that perhaps Velasquez ultimate best role would be in the bullpen. Perhaps he could develop into a lights-out closer. That may, in fact, be his ultimate fate. That wouldn’t be so bad either.
A STEP BACK MAY BE IN ORDER
However, the time to try Velasquez out in the bullpen is not now. He turns 25 years old in a couple of weeks. He has proven durable to this point in his career. There is still realistic hope that he can figure it out, and become not only dominating in spurts, but more reliable and consistent.
Frankly, what it may take is a trip up the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Let Velasquez go to AAA Lehigh Valley, where the IronPigs have one of the best teams in the minor leagues. There Velasquez can work on his confidence in a less pressurized environment where the ball club is winning.
The Phillies have a pair of pitching prospects with Lehigh Valley who deserve and appear ready for a shot in the big leagues. Those would be right-handers Jake Thompson and Ben Lively.
Let Velasquez go to Lehigh Valley for a few weeks. Tell him this isn’t a rush job. Give him a plan, say, after the MLB All-Star break. That would be a good seven weeks and about 10 starting assignments.
Many pitchers have needed to take a step back in order to move forward in their development. It would certainly not be a blow to Velasquez’ confidence, which already appears on the brink of being shattered.