Vince Velasquez pitched himself out of the starting rotation the last two seasons but his struggles have not been enough for the Phillies to part with the right-hander as they tendered him a contract on Wednesday night for the 2021 season.
The Phillies are thin on starting pitching so they’ll retain Velasquez, who posted a 5.06 ERA over the last two seasons, for his final season of club control. They also tendered a contract Wednesday to Rhys Hoskins and agreed to terms for 2021 with Zach Eflin ($4.45 million), David Hale ($850,000), Andrew Knapp ($1.1 million), Hector Neris ($5 million), and Seranthony Dominguez ($727,500).
Velasquez was sent to the bullpen last August for the second-straight season but returned to the rotation a week later due to a flurry of doubleheaders. He will likely compete during spring training for the final spot in the rotation that already includes Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Eflin, and Spencer Howard.
The Phillies are not expected to be big spenders this offseason, which is why they’ll try to fill their No. 5 starter job with an internal option like Velasquez instead of signing a free agent. He has started the last five seasons in the starting rotation.
Velasquez, since 2016, has logged the second-most innings among Phillies pitchers yet has a 4.76 ERA. He’s been unable to find his footing. Velasquez will work next season with his fifth pitching coach in six seasons, so perhaps 31-year-old Caleb Cotham will be able to help Velasquez utilize his powerful fastball and become a reliable starting pitcher.
Velasquez has struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings over the last three seasons, but will have to lower his walk rate and be more efficient with his pitches to contribute as a starter.
The Phillies will try to avoid arbitration with Velasquez and Hoskins – who are both represented by Scott Boras – by finding common ground before next month’s deadline to exchange salary figures. Hoskins is eligible for the first time while Velasquez is eligible for the third and final year.
Dominguez underwent Tommy John surgery in July and is not expected to pitch in 2021. The Phillies, by signing him Wednesday, are hoping that he will be able to contribute in 2022. He was electric as a rookie in 2018 but struggled in 2019 before being shut down in June with the injury that eventually led to last summer’s surgery.
The investment carries little risk. It will cost the Phillies less than $1 million and they’ll be able to move him to the 60-day injured list during the season so he will only affect their 40-man roster during the winter. Another team would be quick to sign Dominguez and let him rehab for a season if the Phillies parted with him.
The Phillies acquired Hale last August from the Yankees but the right-hander was ineffective in six appearances. The Phillies have to reconfigure their bullpen this offseason after it finished last season with the major’s highest ERA in 90 years. Hale, who has pitched seven major-league seasons, provides decent depth.