Velasquez allowed six hits, two walks and struck out six over seven scoreless innings in the Phillies' 2-1 victory at Citizens Bank Park. It is arguably his best start since striking out 16 in a complete-game shutout against the Padres on April 14, 2016. It was an enticing look at Velasquez's talent and potential, which made him the key piece in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.
"There it is," Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp said. "He didn't strike out 16, but he can go out and do that every time."
Velasquez, 25, entered Sunday just 2-9 with a 5.98 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in 17 starts since Aug. 9, 2016, although he has a 2.81 ERA in three starts since returning from the disabled list with a strained right elbow. Velasquez's inconsistency and inability to pitch deep in games has had some wondering if his future is in the bullpen.
His overpowering fastball would play in one-inning stints, but the Phillies can make that transition at any point. Despite winning nine of their last 13 games, the Phillies can afford to keep giving Velasquez looks in the rotation because there is no immediate urgency for their season.
Velasquez said Sunday he wants to start. It is the most assertive he has been about the topic in some time.
"I'm definitely planning on being in that rotation," Velasquez said. "It's pretty much an arsenal. We have tough arms in our organization."
But Velasquez will need to maintain his poise and keep mixing his pitches, rather than try to pump fastballs by everyone. He has unraveled at times in difficult situations, but he excelled in them Sunday. He had runners on first and second with no outs in the seventh, but got Kurt Suzuki to fly out, putting runners at second and third. He struck out Johan Camargo and Sean Rodriguez to end the inning.
Velasquez pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.
"Vinny wants to be so good he gets overly excited sometimes, so it's kind of a challenge to keep him mellow, like, 'Hey, calm down,'" Knapp said. "He did a really good job of that today, not letting situations get ahead of him. Especially with that second and third [jam], he was able to control his emotions and get out of it."
"That's the best I've seen him look, as far as mound presence is concerned," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "That was really a good step forward for him."
Velasquez talked extensively about the importance of his secondary pitches afterward.
"I can't be a thrower anymore," Velasquez said. "You use velocity and guys are going to end up timing your stuff. It's just a matter of setting them up and messing with their timing. The secondary pitches are very useful. If I don't have that in the bag, who knows? The outcome could have possibly changed."