CHICAGO -- The White Sox signed Vince Velasquez over the offseason to a one year, $3 million deal to fulfill their starting rotation needs. After Carlos Rodón went to the Giants and with injuries to Lance Lynn and hybrid starter Garrett Crochet, Velasquez soon found himself square in the middle of the rotation.
On Saturday, the 29-year-old pitcher delivered a gem for the White Sox in a 4-0 victory over the red-hot Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Velasquez pitched 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball, giving up just four hits with six strikeouts in a much-needed win for the South Siders.
“We saw Velasquez in Spring Training, and he was a totally different person than what we saw in camp,” Angels manager Joe Madden said. “That's what he's been like in the past and that's why they see so much potential in him. He's good."
In that Spring Training game against the Angels, Velasquez struggled, giving up five runs (three home runs) in just 2 1/3 innings.
Saturday was a much different story for him.
“Just sustaining as much confidence as I possibly can,” Velasquez said on what was different. “I didn’t let anything get to me. Sometimes I get lost in my thoughts, and it’s just a matter of not getting too stuck into that.”
To begin his career with the Sox, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Velasquez. Before Saturday, in three starts, he had gone 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. But manager Tony La Russa saw progress in each of his outings.
“I see potential,” La Russa said pregame. “He’s made a lot of good pitches. He’s got a good mix and a strong arm. There’s no flaw when he gets deeper into the game. He’ll have his hands full [with] a tough lineup.”
The right-hander faced an Angels lineup that featured former MVPs Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. With the MVPs at the top of the lineup, they had won six straight games and ranked first in runs (104) and third in batting average (.258).
Velasquez, however, didn’t shy away from this daunting lineup and attacked them all afternoon. He trusted his stuff and produced his best outing of the season, before a 61-minute rain delay caused his exit in the sixth inning after 86 pitches.
“I can’t give enough credit [to him],” La Russa said. “ He was good and relentless. He used all his pitches and mixed them really well.”
Even when the game paused, on a 2-2 count to Trout, Velasquez was feeling it so much that he didn’t want to stop for some rain, even if the former MVP was at the plate.
“I wanted to get that last throw in there,” said Velasquez. “That’s just competitive nature taking over and how much I wanted to at least finish that inning.”
A home run from Tim Anderson in the first and a three-run shot from Luis Robert in the fifth gave Velaquez the needed insurance to feel comfortable and get his first win with the team.
“TA leading off with a home run was very comforting,” Velasquez said. “Then on, I had to just keep the dice rolling.”
His dominance Saturday came from his favorite pitch: the four-seam fastball. He threw it 45% of the time, which resulted in nine of his season-high 13 whiffs. But it was also Velasquez’s ability to mix in the offspeed pitches.
In the fourth inning against Trout and Ohtani, Velasquez went at both hitters, effectively using his arsenal. The result: back-to-back swinging punchouts on perfectly placed offspeed pitches.
“It just seemed like all day, I had the ability to fill up the strike zone and utilize almost everything that was working,” the Sox starter said. “I kept my options open and attacked when I needed to.”
That’s the potential that La Russa sees in him, the ability to attack hitters, mix his pitches and get in a groove as the game goes on. He checked all those boxes Saturday.
“Going up against a lineup like that and to have a performance like that is nice,” Velasquez said. “It’s just a glimpse of something I could do on a regular basis if I keep on working.”