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Vince Velasquez preparing to make big starts down stretch for Phillies

Nudged out of the rotation last month to make room for rookie Spencer Howard, Velasquez likely will start games in three doubleheaders over the next few weeks.

With five doubleheaders in 15 days beginning Tuesday, the Phillies will need Vince Velasquez to re-enter the starting rotation.
With five doubleheaders in 15 days beginning Tuesday, the Phillies will need Vince Velasquez to re-enter the starting rotation.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Vince Velasquez is about to go from being the Phillies’ invisible man to pitching important games in the midst of a playoff race.

Nudged out of the starting rotation last month by rookie Spencer Howard, Velasquez hasn’t made a start – and has worked a total of only two innings – since Aug. 20. That’s the life of a long reliever during a 12-game stretch entering Saturday night in which the starters averaged six innings per game and posted a 3.17 ERA.

But the Phillies have five doubleheaders scheduled over the next 15 days, beginning Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. It’s likely that Velasquez will start one of those seven-inning games, which would line him up to also start one game of a Sept. 13 doubleheader against the Marlins in Miami and a Sept. 18 doubleheader at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I’m thoroughly excited knowing that we’re in a race and we’re right behind the [Atlanta] Braves and we’re fighting for that spot,” Velasquez said. “It’s crunch time right now, so any opportunity I possibly can encounter, I’m definitely going to take advantage of.”

Velasquez sneaked up to Lehigh Valley on Thursday to start a scrimmage at the Phillies’ alternate training site. He described it as a “last-minute thing,” an exercise to stretch out his arm after the lack of action.

“It’s kind of tough to get as much work as you possibly can with all these pitchers,” Velasquez said. “This was kind of my opportunity to sharpen up some stuff and go get some reps in. That was a good decision on both ends.”

Velasquez won the fifth-starter job by pitching well in training camp and showing off a cutter that he picked up during baseball’s coronavirus hiatus. But he struggled in his first start and was moved to the bullpen after Howard got called up.

In three starts this season, Velasquez has a 6.75 ERA. He has a 6.60 ERA in five appearances overall.

“I’m in a difficult position to kind of maintain being sharp as much as I can, but this is kind of how I’ve operated since my first year in the major leagues,” Velasquez said. “When I was with Houston, I was a starter, then I was a long reliever, then got a couple innings. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to start. Do I want to start? Of course. But it’s just of a matter of acceptance.

“The only thing I can do is pitch, man, and sharpen up all my stuff. Whatever opportunity I possibly have at hand, I have to take advantage of. I have a lot of gas in the tank. I know what I’m capable of. It’s just a matter of trust and work ethic on my behalf.”

Even with Velasquez getting reinserted into the rotation, the Phillies likely will need a starter for one game of a Sept. 11 doubleheader in Miami and a Sept. 22 doubleheader in Washington. They could divide the innings among relievers or call up a spot-starter from Lehigh Valley as the 29th man. Left-hander Cole Irvin and righty Mauricio Llovera would be the likeliest options.

Extra bases

Shortstop Didi Gregorius wasn’t in the lineup Saturday night for the first time all season. ... With the Flyers playing Game 7 of their playoff series against the New York Islanders, a reminder of one of the more unbelievable footnotes in the Phillies’ 137-year history: They have never played a Game 7. ... Classic pitchers’ duel on tap Sunday at Citi Field: Aaron Nola (4-2, 2.45 ERA) vs. Jacob deGrom (2-1, 1.76). They have faced each other only once before in a 4-2 Phillies win on May 13, 2018. Nola went six innings; deGrom got pulled after a 45-pitch first inning in which he somehow didn’t give up a run.