PHILADELPHIA – It sure seemed like Vince Velasquez earned another opportunity in the Phillies’ rotation.
If not him, then who?
Phillies manager Joe Girardi stopped short of saying that Velasquez will make a fourth consecutive start following Monday night’s 4-3 victory over the Brewers at Citizens Bank Park, but if performance matters, then there is no reason to think he should not.
Velasquez allowed one run in six innings to become the first Phillies starter this season other than Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin to record an out in the sixth, illustrating Philadelphia's considerable struggles at the back end of the rotation.
“My job here is to pitch,” Velasquez said. “If it’s in the rotation, if it’s in the bullpen, that’s Joe’s decision. But when you have performances like this, it’s just going to kind of settle in and it’s going to marinate. So, at the end of the day, all I can do is keep pitching, man. And that’s all I want to do. I want to help this team win.”
But he would love to start, right?
“Oh, 100%,” Velasquez said. “Over the past four or five years, it’s been kind of difficult. But at the same time, I know what my capabilities are. I know what I have, and I know what I can bring to the table.”
The Phillies opened the season with right-hander Chase Anderson and left-hander Matt Moore in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation.
Anderson has a 5.40 ERA through five starts. Moore had a 9.82 ERA in three, before landing on the COVID-19 injured list.
Moore’s unexpected departure created an opportunity for Velasquez, whose inconsistencies the past several seasons are partly why the Phillies searched for starting pitching help in the offseason.
Velasquez allowed five runs in 8 1/3 innings in his first two starts in place of Moore. His 5.40 ERA fell in line with his 5.09 ERA over 30 starts from 2019-20.
But when Moore rejoined the team early last week, the Phillies continued to start Velasquez. They said that Moore missed too much time to jump back in. They said he needed to pitch before he returned.
So far Moore has not pitched.
So, perhaps curiously, when asked after the game on Monday whether Velasquez had earned a start Saturday against the Braves in Atlanta, Girardi said, “Yeah, I mean, I have to see what happens and see what we need. But yeah, I mean Vinny threw a good game."
Velasquez allowed a mammoth home run to Lorenzo Cain with one out in the first -- the ball landed on Ashburn Alley in left-center field -- but then he settled. And he struck out Cain and Christian Yelich on changeups to start the third.
Velasquez retired the final 10 batters he faced.
“Vinny’s best two innings were his fifth and sixth inning,” Girardi said. “Maybe we need to tire him out a little bit.”
Héctor Neris’ high-wire five-out save – his 40 pitches were the most he threw in a game since Aug. 27, 2015 – helped the Phillies move within a game of .500. Neris loaded the bases in the ninth after he allowed a two-out infield single to Kolten Wong.
“I got it. I got it,” Neris indicated to Girardi.
Neris struck out Cain to end the game.
“It’s a gutsy performance by Héctor,” Girardi said. “I don’t ever like a pitcher going that many pitches, and I know he threw a few in the inning before, but just really gutsy. I gave him the chance and he came through big for us.”
But Velasquez set the table. It was just the fourth time in 33 starts over the past three seasons he pitched six innings. It is not much to go on, but it is something. And right now the Phillies need something from the back of the rotation.