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Velasquez thrilled with new pitching coach Price

@ToddZolecki
January 21, 2020

READING, Pa. -- Vince Velasquez beamed Tuesday as he recalled his offseason conversations with new Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price. They have texted. They have chatted. “More than I ever expected,” Velasquez said before the Phillies’ winter banquet at the Crowne Plaza. “Nothing but positives. Nothing but optimistic stuff. He

READING, Pa. -- Vince Velasquez beamed Tuesday as he recalled his offseason conversations with new Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price.

They have texted. They have chatted.

“More than I ever expected,” Velasquez said before the Phillies’ winter banquet at the Crowne Plaza. “Nothing but positives. Nothing but optimistic stuff. He believes in my ability and what I can become. It kind of reinforces that trust. I’m establishing that relationship with him. We’ve been on the same page via text and videos and whatnot. It’s just making me a little bit more of a student of the game.”

Velasquez expressed similar enthusiasm about new Phillies manager Joe Girardi. Velasquez’s feelings about the coaching staff echoed what Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto offered Monday when he said, “I feel like a sneaky way the Phillies have helped us this offseason is the coaches they've brought in. The manager they brought in. I feel like we have a lot of experience to work with now. I think it'll help us a lot behind the scenes.”

Price could make a huge difference with the team’s pitching staff. The Phillies dismissed former pitching coach Chris Young in October after just one season. The Phillies had high expectations for their pitchers in 2019, but the rotation regressed and the bullpen struggled, in part because of injuries. Young, who had a scouting and analytics background when he got the job, struggled to connect with some pitchers. Price is regarded as a tremendous communicator and relationship builder. He does not have the analytics background like Young, but he knows pitching and how to work with people.

He has Velasquez feeling good about himself and his chances to win a rotation job this spring. Velasquez, 27, went 7-8 with a 4.91 ERA in 33 appearances (23 starts) last season. The Phillies said Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Ranger Suárez and others will compete for the final two spots in the rotation behind Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta. The runners-up could move to the bullpen.

Velasquez wants to start. It is his focus. He has incorporated yoga into his offseason workout routine to “break down my body and try to find those gray areas.” He said he talked with Price about trying to be more athletic and less mechanical on the mound. He talked with him about trying to be less predictable, which means not pumping four-seam fastballs at the top of the strike zone and throwing breaking balls at the bottom of the zone.

“Pitching all around the zone,” Velasquez said. “Learning how to be proficient all the way around, in all areas. … That was one of my biggest discussions with Bryan. I didn’t want to be cornered.”

Velasquez knows this is a big season for him. It is a big season for Eflin and Pivetta, too. Developmental time is over. Winning is everything. It is why Girardi, Price and new hitting coach Joe Dillon are here.

“Every day is a competition,” Velasquez said. “You’re still fighting for a spot. Nothing is really guaranteed in my position. I’m pretty much ready for anything in my way. At this point, I’m pretty optimistic.”

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