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Next step for Velasquez is conquering curve

Phillies righty has blazing fastball, but secondary pitches need work
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez believes he has the stuff to be an ace.

He is not there yet. He knows that. But he wants it.

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez believes he has the stuff to be an ace.

He is not there yet. He knows that. But he wants it.

View Full Game Coverage

"I realize my potential," Velasquez said after throwing two scoreless innings Wednesday in a 5-5 tie with the Rays in a Grapefruit League game at Charlotte Sports Park. "That's why I'm working hard. I would love to be a No. 1 starter. I would love to be an Opening Day starter. But there are a lot of factors that play into it."

Spring: Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs

So what will Velasquez, who enters the season as the Phillies' No. 4 starter, need to do to take that step? He said it starts with being confident with every pitch he throws.

"If you have no conviction in it, no trust in it, why even throw it?" he said.

He said former Phillies catcher A.J. Ellis helped him tremendously in that regard late last season.

"A.J. was pretty much the guy who brought the tablet and showed you numbers where you succeeded with certain pitches," Velasquez said. "He pulled numbers and analytics."

Perhaps it is why Velasquez has focused this spring on his curveball. He threw the pitch 13.6 percent of the time last season, according to Pitch-f/x. Batters hit .297 with a .591 slugging percentage against it, according to Statcast™.

Velasquez's curveball spin rate also ranked 74th out of 117 pitchers who threw 200 or more curveballs.

Less spin, less break, less effective.

"I'm not too worried about my spin," he said. "I can't even throw it for a strike right now. So I shouldn't be worried about spin rate. I should be worried about my strike rate."

Video: Outlook: Velasquez needs to pitch deeper into games

Perhaps that comes back to conviction.

"I just have some type of hesitation with curveballs," Velasquez said. "I'm afraid of leaving it up, I'm afraid of burying it, bouncing it in the dirt. If I can establish location on that pitch right now I'm not going to have any doubts during the season. So again, all those fears, all those doubts, all those hesitations, it's best to get them out now. Work on them now and when the season comes there shouldn't be anything to worry about.

"The curveball could be a huge factor if I could locate it and use it whenever I want. That protects my fastball. Knowing that I'm a power pitcher, I could easily blow it right by them."

Velasquez remains a power guy. His fastball averaged 94.26 mph last season. Out of 52 pitchers who threw a four-seam fastball 1,000 or more times, Velasquez's fastball velocity ranked 18th. That is his bread and butter.

If he can only improve those secondary pitches, like his curveball.

"I have a lot of work to do to show these people what I can be, and if that's a No. 1 starter I want to be that guy," he said.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Vince Velasquez