It’s time to find out if Vince Velasquez can be an effective big-league reliever.

That idea is not an original one. It has been floated for years by people inside and outside the Phillies’ organization. An actual experiment, however, has never really been conducted, at least not one that could provide a conclusive answer about his ability to pitch in relief.

In his five seasons with the Phillies, Velasquez has appeared in 112 games, but only 13 have been as a reliever and 10 of those came during the 2019 season. The results weren’t good. He posted a 5.22 ERA and allowed 13 hits, including three home runs. But once he was given a chance to settle into the role he actually performed well. In his last five relief appearances in 2019, he pitched five scoreless innings and struck out seven batters while walking just one.

That is too small of a sample size to draw any conclusion about what kind of reliever Velasquez could be, but his long and undistinguished resume as a starter should be enough to make the Phillies want to see more of the hard-throwing righthander out of the bullpen.

After an injury to Jerad Eickhoff forced Velasquez’s return to the rotation in 2019, he posted a 5.33 in 17 starts to end the season. During his five seasons with the Phillies, he is 25-33 with a 4.77 ERA as a starter. That’s a big enough sample size to draw plenty of conclusions, and none of them are good.

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One of Velasquez’s biggest problems as a starter has been excessively high pitch counts. In the last two seasons, he has made it into the sixth inning in only six of his 30 starts. Still, the Phillies decided to keep him around during the offseason, signing him to a one-year deal worth $4 million. And now they’re giving him another shot at being a starter.

“I think Vinny wants to start,” manager Joe Girardi said during a Zoom call with reporters after the Phillies’ 4-1 exhibition loss to Toronto on Tuesday. “I think Vinny wants to earn a starting spot and he understands that he struggled a little bit today. He just didn’t have his fastball command that he had last time, which made him so effective, and he’s probably frustrated by it.”

After pitching two perfect innings with three strikeouts in his spring-training debut last week, Velasquez needed 39 pitches to record five outs against the Blue Jays.

“You have to go back to work and that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “We’re trying to get into a position where we can really evaluate these guys and you don’t make too much of one start. Vinny really cares and I’m sure he was probably quite frustrated after his start.”

Velasquez, 28, said he has come to spring training fighting for one of the two open spots in the starting rotation. He insisted that he has learned from past failures and that he is benefiting from the tutelage of new pitching coach Caleb Cotham.

The competition for the final two spots in the rotation also includes rookie Spencer Howard and veterans Matt Moore and Chase Anderson, both of whom signed with the Phillies as free agents in the offseason.

“I’m aware of the situation,” Velasquez said. “I’m aware of who we have and who is competing, but I’m one of those guys that is going to compete regardless of what the situation is. Nothing is ever given and nothing is guaranteed, but I’m still going to keep competing for that starting role.”

It’s too early to declare a winner in the competition, but the smart money is on Moore and Anderson to lock down the final two rotation jobs at least to start the season. Moore helped his own cause with a couple of scoreless innings against the Blue Jays. The 31-year-old lefty who is trying to make a triumphant return to the big leagues after pitching in Japan last season has impressed Girardi.

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Velasquez still has time to impress the manager, but Girardi has often said that past performance always plays a part in determining the outcome of spring-training competitions. That should not come as good news to Velasquez. Though he sometimes seemed reluctant about the idea of pitching out of the bullpen in the past, he is well aware that it could happen this season.

“We talk about transparency and that’s all I want at the end of the day,” Velasquez said. “I want to know exactly what my role is and what am I doing. I don’t want to go into ... the beginning of the season not knowing exactly what my role is. Obviously, everyone is going to be fed that information. They are different roles, but there’s some preparation for a guy who was starting to get ready for that relieving role because you might go back-to-back-to-back and those are situations that my body is not used to. I’m focusing on being a consistent pitcher whether it is in a relieving role or whether it is a starting role.”

Velasquez indicated he would also be willing to accept a trade if that ended up being his fate. Before the Phillies go that route, they should see if he can pitch out of the bullpen. It’s an old idea, but its execution is long overdue.