Vince Velasquez is about to begin his sixth season -- and his ninth life -- with the Phillies.
The decision Sunday to option lefty reliever JoJo Romero to the Lehigh Valley alternate site clinched a spot in the bullpen for Velasquez, who will open the season as the long man/No. 6 starter.
Velasquez then allowed one run on three hits in two innings of a 6-2 victory over the New York Yankees in Clearwater, Fla., in the Phillies’ penultimate exhibition game. It was his first appearance since March 9 because of a strained muscle in his side.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I thought all his pitches were good today. He gave up the soft base hit [in the fifth inning], but threw the ball pretty well today.”
The Phillies gauged trade interest in Velasquez in the offseason. As recently as two weeks ago, Velasquez suggested that he might be pitching elsewhere when the season begins. A change of scenery might even be what he needs after his ERA rose from 4.85 in 2018 to 4.91 in 2019 and 5.56 last season.
Ultimately, though, the Phillies don’t have enough pitching depth in triple-A to feel comfortable moving on from Velasquez. Beyond Spencer Howard, whose contribution to the major-league team figures to come in a hybrid starter/reliever role, Ramón Rosso and Adonis Medina would be the top starter options at Lehigh Valley.
And so, Velasquez stays, even though his usage in the bullpen is “a hard thing to predict,” according to Girardi.
“You obviously know that you want to keep him as built-up as possible in case he has to make some starts, which he would be the next guy in line for us,” Girardi said. “So it’s tricky, but we have to work at it.”
In his final spring tuneup, Zack Wheeler allowed one hit and struck out four batters in three scoreless innings against a Yankees lineup that featured regulars DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, and Gary Sánchez.
Wheeler is scheduled to start the second game of the season against the Atlanta Braves.
Third baseman Alec Bohm returned to the lineup after missing two games with groin tightness and promptly went 2-for-2 with a walk. His double in the fourth inning against Yankees reliever Nick Nelson hit off the top of the wall in right-center field.
The last few innings of spring-training games are usually a chance for minor leaguers to leave an impression on the major-league staff. A few Phillies prospects took advantage.
After Matt Vierling hustled to beat out a potential double-play ball in the seventh inning, Nick Maton and Luis Garcia delivered back-to-back RBI doubles and Bryson Stott singled home a run. In the eighth, Rodolfo Durán banged an RBI single off the left-field wall.
Maton, in particular, has had a strong camp. The lefty-hitting infielder is 8-for-26 (.308) with four doubles, one homer, eight RBI, and a .956 OPS. There’s a good chance he will arrive in the majors at some point this season.
Brad Miller played in his first game since March 10 and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk. That was the bad news.
But at least it appears that Miller will be healthy for opening day. The lefty-hitting utilityman missed more than two weeks after straining a muscle near his rib cage. With Scott Kingery getting optioned to the minors Sunday, the Phillies are confident Miller will be ready.
Zach Eflin is scheduled to start the spring-training finale at 1:05 p.m. Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Clearwater. The Phillies are 0-7 against the Blue Jays, 12-7-1 against every other opponent this spring. The game will be televised by NBC Sports Philadelphia+.