PHILADELPHIA -- Vince Velasquez on Sunday threw a fastball below 90 miles per hour for the first time in his (healthy) career. Then he did it again. And again.
By his 96th and final pitch in the Phillies' 7-2 win over the Royals, Velasquez had only thrown 48 fastballs, amounting to just half his pitches. His average velocity on those heaters dropped from a season average of 95.7 mph to 92.1.
After Velasquez's fourth pitch -- an Alex Gordon single -- catcher Cameron Rupp visited him on the mound.
"I said, 'What's the deal? You have nothing behind it,'" Rupp said. "And he said, 'It's just not coming out.' I asked if he was OK and going to be able to pitch. He said, 'Yeah.'"
After the next pitch -- Velasquez's fifth and first to Whit Merrifield -- manager Pete Mackanin called time and walked to the mound, flanked by pitching coach Bob McClure and head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.
"We thought, 'Oh no, not again,'" Mackanin said, referencing Velasquez's last home start in which he was promptly removed after throwing two fastballs at 86 and 87 mph. "He was very honest last time, and we didn't take any chances. This time we just wanted to see if he needed to stay out there and loosen up. And of course the rest is history. He pitched very well."
After giving his teammates and coaches a scare in the first, Velasquez settled in and made it through six innings.
With practically the entire team huddled on the mound, "I looked at them dead in the eye and said I was fine," Velasquez said.
He and Mackanin attributed the dip in velocity to a dead arm. If it was anything more severe, Velasquez's velocity and command of his secondary pitches would have likely evaporated into the same air that three-plus mph on his fastball did.
Instead, the typically flame-throwing Velasquez adjusted, looking to the likes of Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddux for inspiration. He threw the lowest percentage of fastballs that he has in any start of his career. He also threw the highest percentage of changeups. And Velasquez hit his spots. Well, all but one.
The only damage the Royals did came on a Gordon dinger to the second deck in right, off a changeup that Velasquez hung over the middle of the plate. It was a rare mistake from Velasquez, who substituted excellent command for a dip in fastball velocity.
"Location is the key," Velasquez said. "I mean you've got Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, guys who barely threw 85. If you hit your spots, you can never go wrong. But, I mean, giving up a changeup to Gordon, first pitch. I was ahead of the hitter and he just jumped on it. But things happen. I was utilizing all of my other pitches, just trying to pitch to contact."
"You've gotta be a little crafty," Rupp added. "You have to figure out how to pitch backward, how to make his fastball a little more effective when he doesn't have his good stuff. And that's what he did today. He pitched really well."