CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Vince Velasquez showed Thursday why he might be the favorite to be the Phillies' No. 5 starter.
The right-hander allowed three hits, one run, one walk and struck out seven in five innings in a 6-1 loss to the Rays in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Velasquez allowed a leadoff home run to Logan Forsythe in the first inning before retiring 13 of the next 14 batters he faced. He had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth, but struck out Luke Maile on a 95 mph fastball and Forsythe on a 93 mph fastball to end the inning.
"You can't go wrong with putting up zeroes," Velasquez said of the competition to be the No. 5. "It's a good battle so far. They're putting up zeroes. This is the time -- it's really a grind right now. It's coming down to the wire."
Velasquez's performances against Maile and Forsythe in the fifth impressed Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, who said the final decision on the fifth starter will be made late in camp.
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"The thing I liked about him the most was when he got into trouble with a couple guys on base, he softened up," Mackanin said. "He changed speeds. We talked about that early in the spring when I said he had to show a little finesse. He sure showed that today."
"The changeup was money," Velasquez said.
But it is Velasquez's power arm that made him the key piece in the Ken Giles trade in December. And it is that power arm that had Maile and Forsythe swinging and missing in a critical situation.
"Later on in the season I may have a situation where I'm at 89-90 pitches, and I need to get out of it this inning," Velasquez said. "It's something where you have to bear down. You've got to win that battle."
Velasquez has a 3.21 ERA (five earned runs in 14 innings) in three Grapefruit League starts. He has walked four and struck out 16.
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His competition is left-handers Adam Morgan and Brett Oberholtzer. Morgan has allowed two runs in nine innings this spring. Oberholtzer has pitched eight scoreless innings, but the Phillies like his versatility and might start him in the bullpen. Both are scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game Friday at Carpenter Complex.
"It's probably going to be our toughest decision, really," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said.
The winner is expected to join Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton and Jerad Eickhoff in the rotation.
Eickhoff allowed three hits, one run, two walks and struck out four in four innings in an instrasquad game at Carpenter Complex. He is scheduled to make his first Grapefruit League start Tuesday against the Twins in Clearwater. He had been sidelined earlier this spring because of a fractured right thumb and slowed lately because of a blister on his foot.
"Felt good," Eickhoff said. "I'm just happy to be walking over here in one piece this time."
Eickhoff believes he still has time to be ready to join the rotation come Opening Day.
"Every time I'm on the mound I feel better each time and I think that's key, just make steps in the right direction," he said. "That's all I can ask for."