PHILADELPHIA -- Vince Velasquez showed up at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday afternoon, fully expecting to make his sixth consecutive start since he replaced left-hander Matt Moore in the rotation last month.
Then he felt numbness in his right index finger.
Velasquez has experienced numbness like this before, except in the past he lost feeling in his right middle finger. He had surgery nearly four years ago to alleviate the symptoms, but they occasionally return. In fact, Velasquez experienced numbness in his right middle finger before he made his last start last weekend against the Blue Jays. But this latest bout -- again, this time in the right index finger -- forced the Phillies to scratch him from his start about 20 minutes before first pitch.
David Hale started instead in a 6-0 loss to the Marlins.
“I’m not worried about it,” Velasquez said. “I’m not going to lose a finger or anything like that.”
Velasquez said he believes he will make his next scheduled start Tuesday against the Marlins in Miami, but that remains to be seen.
“I can’t tell you exactly what it means right now, but it’s something that we’re concerned about,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.
From a personal standpoint, the Phillies want Velasquez healthy. He has a 2.84 ERA in his five starts. From a team standpoint, they cannot afford to lose him because they have few starters to choose from to replace him. If Velasquez cannot pitch Tuesday, they could turn to top prospect Spencer Howard, who is pitching well for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, or Moore. Howard has been a topic of conversation lately as right-hander Chase Anderson is 2-4 with a 6.96 ERA in eight starts. Girardi said earlier this week that Anderson will make his scheduled start on Saturday.
“It’s very shocking,” Velasquez said. “So now we have some question marks as to what’s the reason and why this is happening. Yesterday, I was playing catch, I did long toss, I did all my pre-work stuff and I got ready for today’s game. Getting here to the ballpark this afternoon when I needed to be, it just seemed like it didn’t get any better.”
Velasquez hoped it would subside before first pitch because sometimes it does.
“As the day goes by it tends to act up when it wants to and then it’ll somehow settle,” he said. “It started acting up in Dunedin and I went out and played catch and it somehow managed to kind of just flush away.”
But this time it did not. Velasquez walked back from the outfield to the dugout at about 6:45 p.m. before the 7:07 p.m. start.
“It just seemed like at that moment after a couple tosses, it just seemed like it wasn’t going to get any better,” he said.
It left Hale little time to prepare.
As Hale rushed to get ready, Velasquez visited a team doctor. He later went into the batting cage and threw the baseball about 10 times. He said the finger felt fine. But then he said he re-aggravated it.
“As much as I wanted to throw today and help the team win this series, it was very hard for me to even grip the ball,” he said.
It might not have mattered how well Velasquez pitched, if he could have pitched. Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara struck out nine in six scoreless innings. The Phillies struck out 15 times overall, including Brad Miller on a called third strike for the second out in the ninth. He was upset with the call, but probably with Dan Iassogna’s strike zone throughout the night, too.
And maybe -- just maybe -- Miller was upset with the fact that the Phillies have lost four of their last five games to fall back to .500. They have been shut out twice in that stretch. They scored one run in another one of those losses.
“I’m sure it’s a combination of everything,” Girardi said. “The interesting thing is we’ve won a lot of first games in series, but we have not won the series. We’ve been really good in the first game, but we need to get better in the second and third games. There’s just frustration."