New-look Velasquez continues to impress

Segura departs after HBP; Bullpen taking shape

July 21st, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- This summer’s is much different than last summer’s.

He is still throwing his four-seam fastball and curveball, but everything else has changed. He is throwing a cutter and changeup -- two pitches he did not throw in 2019. He is not throwing a slider, his second-most popular pitch last year, although he said he has not ditched it. Velasquez's revamped four-pitch mix and renewed confidence has him pitching well in Summer Camp and looking like a smart bet to start for the Phillies in this weekend’s season-opening series against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park, though Velasquez said Monday night that nobody has told him anything.

“Vince has pitched really, really well,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said following a 2-2 exhibition tie against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. “We have some decisions to make. But Vinny has been really impressive in this 2.0.”

Velasquez allowed four hits, one run and one walk while striking out six in five-plus innings against the Yankees. He pitched four-plus scoreless innings in an intrasquad scrimmage last week at Citizens Bank Park, allowing two hits and one walk with six strikeouts.

He entered camp competing with Nick Pivetta for the No. 5 job in the rotation. Both could still make the rotation. Right-hander Zack Wheeler is scheduled to pitch Saturday against Miami, but his wife is due to give birth to their first child this weekend. Right-hander Zach Eflin is scheduled to throw a simulated game Thursday. He is behind schedule after missing time because of lower back spasms.

“There just happens to be a lot of moving parts,” Girardi said. “We’re trying to figure out exactly where Eflin is going to be. We have mothers expecting. I can’t really clarify it yet because we’re just not there. A lot of it will depend also on how Zach comes out on Thursday. And then, after that, there are some things we have to work through.”

Velasquez entered Spring Training excited to work with new pitching coach Bryan Price. Velasquez became too one-dimensional the past couple seasons, believing he had been relegated to four-seam fastballs up in the zone and curveballs down in the zone. Price had him believing he could be a pitcher again.

That meant changing speeds, locations and the eye levels of hitters.

Velasquez started to throw his changeup again, which he threw infrequently in 2018 before burying it completely last season.

“The fact that I wasn’t able to throw it in previous years, I just lost confidence in my whole repertoire,” he said. “The fact that Bryan gave me the ability to go out there and throw it and trust it -- just gained a lot of confidence on both ends.”

Velasquez then started throwing a cutter between the time Spring Training got cancelled in March and Summer Camp opened earlier this month. It has been effective.

“A lot of guys were gearing up on my fastball,” Velasquez said. “The big lefty guys would ambush fastballs in and everything was pretty much straight, so I wanted to find something that was more comfortable to throw in on lefties and away from righties. But also that slider, I just wasn’t developing a lot of confidence in it. I had a discussion with [assistant pitching coach Dave] Lundquist. I told him, ‘Hey man, how did you throw your cutter? How did you do this?’ I picked his brain a little bit, and then once we had our bullpens during the whole quarantine, I started utilizing it, started trusting it. I think it’s going to let me dial back in on my fastball.”

Girardi sounds like a believer.

“Vinny is a worker and he’s going to work really hard and he wants it really bad," Girardi said. "So I think it’s his determination that has helped him make this adjustment."

“That’s their decision to make,” Velasquez said of his role. “I'm the one that's going out there, just trying to pitch and get outs and try to help the team win. This is a short season. I'm trying to get ready as soon as possible. You practice like you play, and I'm just one of those guys where I know if I need to get something done, I'm going to get it done. So the fact that I am capable of going out there and performing like I did, if I continue that day in day out, it's going to answer itself.”

Segura hit by pitch, leaves game
Phillies third baseman Jean Segura got hit by a pitch on his left hand in the second inning. He left the game before the bottom of the second.

He did not receive X-rays, though the Yankees’ X-ray technician was not at the ballpark Monday.

“The test that he did with the trainers came out all good,” Girardi said. “They’re pretty confident that he’s OK. Jean is confident he’s OK. I’m not sure if he’ll get it X-rayed tonight or tomorrow, but I hadn’t heard any plans of that yet.”

Bullpen updates
The Phillies granted veteran right-hander Anthony Swarzak his unconditional release on Monday, two days after they released veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano and four days after they released veteran righty Bud Norris.

The Phillies seem to like some of their younger arms in camp.

“We are probably going to go younger,” Girardi said. “I do feel comfortable with the arms that we have. The one thing about the beginning of the season is that we’re probably going to carry 16 pitchers, so you’re going to have a lot to choose from.”

But it also might mean that the Phillies like what they see from right-handers Tommy Hunter and Vìctor Arano. Hunter missed the beginning of camp because of COVID-19. He threw in a simulated game Monday, his second appearance of Summer Camp. Girardi said Hunter threw “really well.”

Arano made his second appearance Sunday against the Orioles. He entered camp behind schedule following his recovery from an injured right shoulder this spring.

“I thought the shape of his slider was better as he went on,” Girardi said. “It had really good depth. His velocity was better than the simulated game that he threw in. It’s progress. He’ll have at least one more game. We’ll have to make a decision after that. But there was progress last night.”

Amaro to broadcast team
NBC Sports Philadelphia announced that former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has joined its Phillies broadcast team for this season. He worked in the booth Monday with Tom McCarthy and Gregg Murphy. Amaro will also appear on Phillies Pregame Live, Phillies Postgame Live and the company’s Phillies Talk podcast.