Embed from Getty ImagesAs impressive as Vince Velasquez was against the Rockies on Thursday, it just adds to the frustration surrounding him. He effectively mixed pitches and had a fastball that was tough for hitters to get good wood on and often sent them back to the dugout. He looked like a guy in complete control. He was poised, located his pitches well and wasn’t at all afraid to throw inside to hitters. It was almost impossible for hitters to get comfortable at the plate and he used that well to his advantage.
He was a different pitcher than he was in his last outing against Milwaukee. That time out he had nothing and the Brewers hitters didn’t waste time jumping on everything that he flopped toward the plate. He lasted just 3 2/3 innings and gave up 10 earned runs on nine hits and two walks.
How can the same pitcher look like Randy Lerch in one outing and give a decent impression of Aaron Nola in his next? That’s the issue that taunts the Phillies when it comes to projecting just what they’ve got in Vince Velasquez, who when all was said and done had thrown 6 2/3 innings of one-hit ball against a really good group of hitters. He made it through six innings without allowing a hit and got the first two outs of the seventh with no problem. Then, a walk brought Trevor Story to the plate and he delivered an RBI double that ended Velasquez’ day at 105 pitches.
To be nit-picky, Velasquez did allow his pitch count to climb higher than it should have. Part of the credit for that though goes to a selective group of hitters on the Rockies who made Velasquez work. The high pitch count caused radio color guy Larry Andersen to quip coming into the seventh that Velasquez wasn’t going to throw a no-hitter because of the pitch count.
Velasquez, who just turned 26 a week earlier, has had scouts, pitching coaches and front office execs scratching their heads – and at times, stomping their feet – because of his seeming schizophrenic pitching personas. The idea of moving him to the bullpen has been addressed but he often gets hit around early in an outing, posting a 4.63 ERA in the first inning that he pitches. In his career, Velasquez has made 12 relief appearances and has a 5.09 ERA in those outings compared to a 4.52 ERA as a starter. Granted, more work out of the bullpen could help Velasquez to greatly lower that number but assuming he could instantly be a quality reliever is no guarantee.
It really comes down to Velasquez himself. He has the ability to be a consistent, quality starter but there have been a lot of players with all of the talent and not enough of the mental toughness to succeed. For now, it would be nice if the Phillies could surround Velasquez with enough talent in the starting rotation that he can potentially be thought of more as a back of the rotation type guy. Ideally though, he can clear any mental cobwebs and become at least a middle of the rotation starter and perhaps more.
The Phillies don’t want Velasquez to be a reliever. They acquired him with visions of a top of the rotation type guy and those expectations have been been lowered through his 53 starts as a Phillie. There is still time and plenty of talent for Velasquez to ultimately define what he can be at the major league level.