DUNEDIN, Fla. - Vince Velasquez, unhappy with another close pitch that was called a ball, covered his mouth and coughed. Always a fierce competitor, the Phillies righthander thought he had twice struck out Kevin Pillar in the first inning of an 8-2 Grapefruit League win over Toronto on Saturday. Both pitches were ruled balls by home plate umpire Junior Valentine.
"That was a fake cough. I was like, 'Come on, bro.' Like, 'Wow, how do you miss that?' That was painted. That's a strike. That's a 100-percent strike," Velasquez said.
"Me and umpires just don't get along for whatever reason, I guess. They don't like me or they can't see. I don't know what the case is. It's just one of those things where I've got to keep it under my tongue and just go about my business."
Velasquez controlled his emotions, striking out four batters over 31/3 innings. It was just his second start of camp, but his energy was in midseason form. He has allowed one run in 51/3 innings this spring. Velasquez continued to work on his curveball, which seemed to maximize his fastball Saturday. Velasquez, who said his fastball is "more electric" because of his curveball, was about to command his primary pitch with precision.
"We want true competitors," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Although you need to compose yourself, I can understand a guy getting upset as long as you don't show the umpire up. There were a few questionable calls that I thought might have been strikes. You have to put that behind you and get the next hitter. It's like pitching around an error. You have to forget about it."
Along with his curveball, Velasquez is working this spring on the timing of his delivery. The coaching staff implored the pitchers last season to be less predictable with their deliveries. Insert a slide step. Throw a quick pitch. Hold onto the ball. Anything to disrupt the timing of a baserunner and batter. A good mix makes it harder to guess how long it will take for Velasquez's pitches to get to home plate.
The righthander held onto the ball for a few consecutive pitches in the third, fooling the Blue Jays into thinking he would deliver each pitch that way. Pillar, who reached on a walk, went to steal second, but Velasquez had fired a quick pitch. The runner was caught flat-footed, allowing catcher Andrew Knapp to easily throw him out at second.
"It's going to prevent a lot of extra-base hits, prevent stolen-base attempts. There's a lot of factors to it," Velasquez said "I can't emphasize how important it is. It really throws the timing off. It's self-explanatory. It's very simple. This game is very simple, but we make it difficult sometimes. When you're there on the mound and you feel so comfortable and feel relaxed, it makes the game . . . easier."
Crafting different delivery times is almost an art. Mackanin said Velasquez continues to improve "little by little."
It will take time to perfect one of baseball's games within the game. The pitcher stopped to talk to Mackanin after he left the game. He did not want to vent about the umpire; instead, he wanted to brag about his ability to hold runners. Velasquez told Mackanin he was right. The manager was happy to hear it.
"We talk about it on a daily basis," Mackanin said. "Make a baserunner worried about trying to steal a base or getting picked off. The hitter has to worry if he's going to quick-pitch me or is he going to hold. It screws you up in the head. Every little thing like that helps. A little thing like that can help you win games."