Vince Velasquez, for the second straight season, has lost his role in the starting rotation and the Phillies will try once again to have the right-hander find success in the bullpen.
Velasquez was replaced in the rotation by Spencer Howard, who will start Thursday’s series finale at Washington. Velasquez made three starts this season and allowed nine earned runs in 12 innings. The Phillies were able to employ a six-man rotation since promoting Howard earlier this month thanks to a pair of doubleheaders, thus delaying a decision on what to do with Velasquez.
“I think everyone is always disappointed,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Now, he didn’t say he was disappointed or show disappointment, but I would expect that he was disappointed. Vinny is a team guy and Vinny said, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes.’”
In five years with the Phillies, Velasquez has a 4.78 ERA in 480 innings. Former manager Gabe Kapler moved Velasquez to the bullpen in May 2019 and Velasquez stayed there for a month before returning to the starting rotation. He had a 4.82 ERA in that month as a reliever with 13 strikeouts and six walks in 9 1/3 innings.
The Phillies will likely need Velasquez to return to the rotation later this season as they have four doubleheaders scheduled in September.
“We would definitely use him long, but if I need him short, I wouldn’t be afraid,” Girardi said. “The other thing is we have to keep him built up.”
In his last start, Velasquez allowed four runs in five innings after being spotted a 7-0 lead against the Blue Jays. Girardi tried to push Velasquez through the sixth inning, but he allowed a homer and a single without recording an out to set the stage for another late-inning collapse.
He’s averaging nearly 20 pitches per inning this season and a career-high 4.27 pitches per plate appearance, which does not bode well for a relief role. But his fastball (95.11 mph) and his curveball (84.65) were both 2 mph faster than they had been in his previous outings, perhaps offering some optimism that he could find success throwing hard in relief.
“I joked with him one day, he was starting the next day and this was earlier in the year and they talk about players that aren’t playing that day not being in the dugout and some of the guys are in shorts,” Girardi said. “I said ‘Vinny, I need you in full uni because you never know. I might use you. You’re a little bit different than everyone else.’ Defense, maybe pinch-running, so Vinny has always been a team guy and I expect that moving forward.”
Jose Alvarez has been instructed to not throw a baseball until at least Sept. 3 as he nurses a testicular contusion after being hit by a 105 mph line drive last week. Alvarez has been instructed to “rest and relax” for two weeks, Girardi said.
“It’s going to take some time,” Girardi said.
Alvarez has allowed just one earned run this season in eight appearances. The left-hander has been the team’s most reliable reliever, so reliable that he even recovered the line drive last week and threw to first base for the out before collapsing in pain.
If Alvarez is healed on Sept. 3, it would be fair to assume that he would require an additional two weeks to rebuild his arm strength before returning to the bullpen. That timeline would have Alvarez returning for the final 10 games of the season.
“I think that’s fair to assume,” Girardi said. “Because once he starts, it won’t just be full throttle. I think there will be steps that he has to overcome.”