Velasquez wins spot as No. 5 starter

Morgan among those optioned to Lehigh Valley

March 27th, 2016

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Vince Velasquez will be the Phillies' No. 5 starter to open the season, emerging as the winner of the competition for the slot on Monday.

Philadelphia made a series of roster moves on Monday, including optioning left-hander Adam Morgan -- the team's other finalist for the fifth starter job -- to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Velasquez was scheduled to pitch Monday afternoon against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

The Phillies also optioned left-hander Elvis Araujo, right-hander Luis Garcia and outffielder Darnell Sweeney to Lehigh Valley. They reassigned right-handers Reinier Roibal and Chris Leroux, left-hander Bobby LaFromboise, catcher Logan Moore and infielder Angelys Nina to Minor League camp.

It is believed Velasquez had been the favorite from the start, although general manager Matt Klentak said Velasquez's status as the key piece in the Ken Giles trade in December would play no role in his chances to make the team.

Velasquez has a 3.21 ERA in four appearances (three starts) this spring. In 14 innings, he has allowed six runs (five earned) on 13 hits. He has walked four batters and struck out 16. Velasquez has dominant stuff, and he has showed it this spring.

Morgan is a strike thrower who impressed. Including the three scoreless innings he threw Thursday in a rain-shortened game against the Braves, Morgan had a 1.50 ERA in four starts. In 12 frames, gave up two runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

The first four starters are Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton and Jerad Eickhoff, who permitted 11 hits, five runs, including two homers, and struck out three in five-plus innings on Sunday. It was only Eickhoff's second start of the spring because of a fractured right thumb.

But Mackanin said Eickhoff, who pitched well in eight starts in 2015, will open in the rotation.

"He's rusty," Mackanin said. "He made a lot of real good pitches with his curveball, but he didn't locate his fastball real well. He's behind everybody, so I'm not concerned about it. He did OK."

Added Eickhoff: "I didn't execute. Ninety-plus pitches shows I'm ready. I feel strong, I feel good, I feel healthy."

Bailey needs to step up 

Non-roster invitee Andrew Bailey looked like the favorite to be the Phils' closer after his first four Grapefruit League appearances, allowing one hit and striking out five in four scoreless innings.

But Bailey has surrendered four runs on six hits with two strikeouts in three innings over his last three outings, which included a perfect inning on Sunday. Mackanin has sounded less than impressed in the past week.

"He looked OK," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see more from him."

Mackanin has expressed a desire for more velocity and better command from Bailey in each of his previous three appearances. Bailey has a May 1 out clause, so if he does not make the Opening Day roster, he can open the season in Triple-A.


"I need to see more from him," Mackanin said. "Let's leave it at that."

While the Phillies could announce their No. 5 starter on Monday, Mackanin said the final bullpen decisions could come as late as next weekend.

"Still going down to the wire," Mackanin said.

Mackanin said on Saturday there is a good possibility the team could carry three left-handed relievers, which would make sense with five right-handers in the rotation. Righties David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa, Jeanmar Gomez and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer are locks to make the bullpen. Right-hander Edward Mujica is a near lock. The Phils must make a decision on him by Tuesday because of an out clause in his contract.

Southpaw Daniel Stumpf (4.35 ERA in eight appearances) has a good chance because of his Rule 5 status. Left-handers James Russell (3.38 ERA in six appearances) and Bobby LaFromboise (1.08 ERA in seven appearances) have made strong cases for themselves. Right-hander Ernesto Frieri has an out clause that can be exercised on Thursday.

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

Fantasy owners should be excited to see a Phillies rotation with Velasquez, a swing-and-miss-inducing arm with the potential to rack up many K's. The right-hander struggled with control during his first go in the Majors last year, but he has issued just four walks across 14 innings through this point in Spring Training. And even though Velasquez may not become a shallow-league lineup regular during April, given his spot on a rebuilding club and in his hitter-friendly home venue, the 23-year-old has a high ceiling and should be a fine streaming option in 12-team formats out of the gate.