PHILADELPHIA -- The enigmatic Phillies tenure of Vince Velasquez appears to have reached the end of the road.
Velasquez was designated for assignment on Saturday afternoon during a series of roster moves by the club.
Velasquez -- who was on a Minor League rehab assignment after going on the injured list for a right middle finger blister -- went 3-6 with a 5.95 ERA in 21 games (17 starts) in 2021. Those numbers had ballooned from the end of May forward; In his last 11 starts, Velasquez was 1-6 with an 8.40 ERA. And with Philadelphia planning to use more relievers with bullpen games scheduled every fifth day until the end of the regular season, Velasquez’s tenure with the Phillies came to an end.
“He started out so well for us when we put him in the rotation, but he’s struggled,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said on Saturday. “We just felt it was the move to do. We are going more with the bullpen game than the fifth starter. We needed relievers in those situations. We just felt it was the move to do.”
Velasquez, 29, was 30-40 with a 4.93 ERA over the last six seasons with the Phillies after being acquired as a centerpiece part of a trade with the Houston Astros for closer Ken Giles during the 2015 Winter Meetings.
In his first start at Citizens Bank Park as a Phillie, Velasquez struck out 16 and walked none during a three-hit shutout of the San Diego Padres. But injuries and inconsistency became a staple going forward as Velasquez would often run up high pitch counts that would tax the Philadelphia bullpen. After that game against the Padres, Velasquez would not go longer than seven innings in any of his remaining 114 starts.
The move basically eliminates any chance of the Phillies deciding to go away from the bullpen game strategy that they've implemented for the final four weeks of the regular season.
“You have to weigh in everything when you make decisions like this,” Girardi said. “Roster spots, roles -- everything. At this time, we felt this was the best move.”
Girardi stresses urgency
When he came out for his pregame meeting on Saturday, Girardi’s mood had lightened somewhat from Friday night’s tense Zoom session following an 11-2 loss to the Rockies.
However, he made it clear that the basic message to his team remained the same: Time is running out.
“I don’t think we’ve been doing the things we need to do to win in this streak we are in,” Girardi said, referring to Philadelphia’s 2-6 stretch since Sept. 3. “We haven’t hit well. We’ve made mistakes on the bases at times. Haven’t closed out games well. You can handle one game -- you are going to have those days where you play stinky. But we haven’t played well. And we have to go -- it’s not like we have months and months of games [left].”
Girardi did not identify the source of his frustrations on Friday night, stating that he would prefer to keep it internal. However, Saturday’s discussion seemed to focus on the Phillies' offensive approach. Girardi specifically mentioned the opposite-field attacks that many clubs were using.
“To me, it’s not trying to do too much,” Girardi said. “There are a lot of hits the other way. You see it -- you watch highlights and there are a lot of hits the other way. You have to be willing to take it. It doesn’t have to be a home run swing every time or that 'A' swing every time. You have to keep the line moving. Those are the teams that win.”
After another question, Girardi seemed to bring up the club’s lack of getting runners on base. The Phillies' on-base percentage was just .296 over the last eight games heading into Saturday night.
“I talk about moving the line all the way,” Girardi said. “Look at the teams in the playoffs and look at one stat -- on-base percentage. Those are the teams that are going to be in the playoffs. That’s not home runs or doubles or triples. It’s on-base percentage.”