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Velasquez embracing make-or-break season

Right-hander credits new manager Kapler for helping him change perspective
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If the Phillies truly plan to shock people, if they really truly believe they have a shot to compete for a spot in the postseason, Vince Velasquez will need to fulfill the potential that made him the most coveted piece in the Ken Giles trade with Houston in December 2015.

This could be his final chance to live up to the hype in the rotation.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If the Phillies truly plan to shock people, if they really truly believe they have a shot to compete for a spot in the postseason, Vince Velasquez will need to fulfill the potential that made him the most coveted piece in the Ken Giles trade with Houston in December 2015.

This could be his final chance to live up to the hype in the rotation.

"I think it's one of those big years," Velasquez acknowledged Wednesday morning before Phillies pitchers and catchers held their first workout at Carpenter Complex.

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Velasquez, 25, went 8-3 with a 3.33 ERA in his first 19 career starts with the Phillies. He looked like a promising top-of-the-rotation starter, striking out 16 in a shutout in his second start and fanning 114 batters in 102 2/3 innings overall. But since then, Velasquez is 2-10 with a 5.65 ERA in 20 starts. He regularly left games early because of high pitch counts and landed on the DL three times because of biceps, elbow and middle finger injuries.

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He looked lost at times. He looked like his future could be in the bullpen.

But Velasquez entered camp upbeat and confident. He smiled often Wednesday as he discussed his past, present and future.

"Mentality," he said. "Just a different mentality."

Velasquez credited Phillies manager Gabe Kapler for some of his changed perspective. He said they communicated regularly over the winter.

"Like we were buddies," Velasquez said. "It's amazing how one person or just one human being can change your ways by creating a different vibe. It's amazing how much he brings to the clubhouse and just how live it is right now. This is the first day and we're already bumping music. We have a whole different approach going into Spring Training and that's something that enlightens us and gives us something to look forward to. It's going to be exciting."

Tweet from @Phillies: A couple of popular guys here on the first official day of workouts in Clearwater. pic.twitter.com/8kQvMSXO1Q

"Vince needs to know how good he really is," Kapler said. "My intention with Vince is … when he delivers a pitch that no one else can deliver, that we highlight it, we illuminate it, we show him how good it is. He's incredibly focused. He's walking around the weight room and the bullpen with swag and feels good about himself."

Velasquez enters camp a heavy favorite to win a job in the rotation because of his talent and upside, but at some point he knows he must produce. First, he must stay healthy. He said an improved diet -- he learned to cook this offseason -- should help. Second, he must keep his mind straight. Velasquez often let his emotions get the best of him. He said he worked by himself to improve the mental aspect of his game.

"It's figuring it out on your own," he said. "You're a big boy."

If Velasquez does those things, perhaps he can reach his 2018 goal: 200 innings. He threw a combined 203 frames over the past two seasons.

"I know what I'm capable of," he said. "I know what I'm capable of doing and how well I worked all offseason to work to get to this stage. I've got a lot of intent. I feel like I can really fulfill this spot and do what I like to do, and that's to be a starter. My mindset now is to be in the starting rotation and to help the squad get to that Wild Card or that playoff spot. Like I said, I think it's one of those big years. I have nothing but confidence."

If he does what he believes he can do, the Giles trade will look much better. Mark Appel, another key piece in the trade, recently retired after two injury-filled seasons in Triple-A.

But Velasquez said he feels no obligation to make that trade a good one for the Phillies.

"I don't think about that stuff," he said. "That's too much to think about. These are little things. Just play the game the right way, take care of yourself, eat right, you'll be fine. Just the simplest terms. That's all you need to do."

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

Philadelphia Phillies, Vince Velasquez