Is 2021 the year for Vincent Velasquez?
Early March is the best time of year. With each passing minute, we are inching closer towards Major League Baseball. Opening Day is less than a month away as Phillies baseball is in full Grapefruit League mode in Clearwater, Florida. It’s become a tradition unlike any other for Phillies fans to ask themself one question in March.
Will 2021 be the year for Vincent Velasquez?
Lost in the shuffle of a 15-run beat down against the New York Yankees last Thursday, was the excellent performances on the mound for Phillies pitching. It’s pretty tough to even type the words “excellent pitching” when writing about the Phillies after a season riddled with blown leads and saves last year, however that’s exactly what we are witnessing as the Phils’ wrapped up their first week of Grapefruit League play in Clearwater, Florida.
To be fair, the Yankees didn’t bring their full roster to Clearwater to face the Phillies. It’s pretty common to see watered-down lineups when visiting teams play during Spring Training. Regardless, the Phillies pitching was excellent. Projected number four starter Matt Moore allowed one hit and a walk while striking out two in two innings of work. Moore needed 24 pitches to get through his Spring debut.
Next up, was Vincent Velasquez. Velasquez himself has worked through a love-hate relationship with Phillies fans during his career. There’s so much potential and he left us all oozing for more after the then 23-year old “Vinny from Philly” burst onto the MLB scene in 2016. Velasquez struck out 25 in 15 scoreless innings over his first two starts for the Phillies. The second start being a career-high 16 strikeouts in a 3-0 victory over the Padres at Citizens Bank Park.
T-Mac was on the call above and stated that “The 23 year old has arrived at Citizens Bank Park.” Turns out, Vinny arrived as quickly as he left. Vinny failed to find the magic of his first two games in a Phillies uniform. He struggled with his location and his ability to pitch deep into games. Through five years with the Philadelphia Phillies, Velasquez has left a ton to be desired.
In five seasons with the Phillies, Velasquez is 27-34 with a 4.76 ERA. He has averaged under five innings in 106 career big-league starts. In relief for Matt Moore last week, Velasquez pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts. Following him, bullpen hopeful hopeful Brandon Kintzler pitched a perfect fifth inning, striking out two. However, during that game, Velasquez was the most impressive pitcher. He threw 20 pitches, 14 of which were strikes, and his fastball topped out at 96 mph. Girardi called Velasquez “electric” and now we’re here writing about 2021 being the year of “Vinny from Philly”.
After offseason chatter about the Phillies finally ready to move on from Vincent Velasquez, he’s back yet again. The Phillies were not expected to tender Vinny’s contract for 2021, but in the end, the Phillies opted to hang on to Velasquez for yet another year with hopes that he will fulfill his potential. Velasquez got lucky too, given the fact that the Phillies pitching depth both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen was seriously lacking.
With Matt Moore and Chase Anderson both on guaranteed big-league contracts and pitching well down in Clearwater, it’s likely we will see Vinny in the bullpen for the 2021 season, which is a good thing. Archie Bradley, who was once drafted as a starting pitcher but now turned himself into a very reliable bullpen arm over the past few seasons, has already stated publicly that Spencer Howard should start the year in the bullpen, keeping him at the Major League level rather than sending him to Triple-A. Vincent Velasquez should be taking a similar path, in terms of moving to the bullpen.
As it’s always been for Velasquez, the key point of focus is consistency and location. He’s a four-pitch guy with great “stuff” and throws the ball extremely hard. He has continuously fallen off late into games for the Phillies during his career. It has always made sense to put Velasquez in the bullpen. Given the bullpen’s historically bad season last year and the new additions heading into the 2021 season, the pressure will be completely off Velasquez for the first time in his career. He can become a bullpen weapon for the Phillies and even slide into the rotation as needed or be a “long-inning” reliever in the event that a starting pitcher struggles.
Vince Velasquez will start on today and Matt Moore will pitch in relief. Wednesday, Spencer Howard will get the start with Chase Anderson will pitch in relief. As I mentioned, the four pitchers are all competing to secure the final four and five spots in the rotation. Vinny from Philly, and the year of Vincent Velasquez, might finally ring true for the Phillies if Velasquez can make the most of his opportunities out of the bullpen but like every other year, we’ll just have to wait and see.
UPDATED MARCH 10TH : 10:02 AM
Velasquez did not make it out of the second inning in Tuesday’s game. He allowed a hit, two runs, and walked two. Vinny struck out three, but it was far from a good outing for someone looking for a spot on Opening Day. He threw 20 balls and 19 strikes, for a total of 39 pitches. The Phillies lost 4-1 and Alec Bohm, had the only hit for the projected starters. Phillies’ batters struck out 13 times.
The games Wednesday (NBCSP+), Thursday (NBCSP+) and Saturday (NBCSP) will be televised.