CHICAGO -- Vince Velasquez returned Wednesday afternoon to the visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field covered in sweat after throwing off a mound for the first time since a strained forearm sent him to the injured list 11 days earlier.
There was no pain, Velasquez said, and the bullpen session provided a good test. What’s next? Not sure, Velasquez said. But he’s confident that the role he’s working toward is in the starting rotation.
“I know there’s a lot of talk, but that’s my spot,” Velasquez said. “I believe that 100 percent.”
Velasquez was replaced in the rotation by Cole Irvin, who started Wednesday night after pitching well in his first two starts. The demoted Nick Pivetta was replaced by Jerad Eickhoff, who has also pitched well.
Despite Velasquez’s confidence, there is not an obvious rotation spot waiting for him.
“I don’t see it as a right,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I see it as if it’s what’s best for the Phillies that he come back and rejoin the rotation, then he will.
"And if what’s best for the Phillies is for Jerad Eickhoff and Cole Irvin to continue to take down starts and utilize Vinny in some other fashion, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll always put the best interests of the organization first, and because we don’t have all the information, it’s very difficult to make the decision right now.”
Velasquez, Kapler said, will be moved to the bullpen if he is unable to rejoin the starting rotation. The Phillies bullpen has been thinned by injuries. The unit could benefit from a pitcher like Velasquez, who would have the ability to be used either as a multiple-inning reliever or a three-out weapon.
“I think that arm could do all of those things. But there’s more nuance to it than just the arm and the talent,” Kapler said. “There’s how resilient would he be in that role? How comfortable would he be getting ready quickly? How comfortable would he be expending all of his emotional energy then coming back and doing it again two days later?”
Envisioning Velasquez in the bullpen, Kapler said, is similar to how the team dreamed a year ago about Seranthony Dominguez. The Phillies transitioned Dominguez in the minors from a starter to a reliever. A month later, he was Kapler’s No. 1 reliever. A season later, the Phillies could try a similar move.
The move, Kapler said, has been on the table for a while.
“I think it requires more discussion. I don’t think we’re there to make that assessment yet,” Kapler said. “I think that those conversations are ongoing and they take some time to crystallize and they haven’t quite crystallized yet.
"They’re more in the discussion stages and not in the clear action step stage. But the potential that he fills that role is real, meaning he has the physical capability and tools to make that work.”