Vince Velasquez has pitched 203 innings in two seasons as a Phillies rotation piece, and that is how he will enter 2018. There is more doubt than ever about Velasquez, who will have surgery later this week to correct a vascular issue affecting his right middle finger, but the Phillies remain committed to his future in the rotation.
"We do still think that Vince possesses all the ingredients to be a top-notch, major-league starter," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Tuesday. "That would be our hope."
The 25-year-old righthander's season ended, officially, when he was transferred to the 60-day disabled list. It was a disappointing season. He pitched to a 5.13 ERA in 72 innings. He reached six innings in just five of his 15 starts. He missed time because of two separate injuries, and he's needed time on the DL in each of his last four professional seasons.
The discomfort in Velasquez's finger stems from an issue in his right armpit, which has restricted blood flow. Velasquez saw a specialist in St. Louis, who concurred with the Phillies' doctors. The recovery time is 6-to-8 weeks, Klentak said, so Velasquez should have a normal offseason.
But the Phillies will have to restrict his innings again in 2018. It is unreasonable to expect 30 starts from Velasquez.
"I think every time Vince goes out there, the stuff that he displays — particularly the fastball, the swing-and-miss fastball — that's something you can't teach," Klentak said. "There's a lot of things we can work on with players, the players can improve upon. The ability to miss bats with a fastball is a God-given skill that Vince possesses, and that's why we believe he still has a lot of upside."
Velasquez has a 4.48 ERA with the Phillies. He has averaged fewer than 5 1/3 innings per start since the Phillies acquired him as the centerpiece in the Ken Giles trade with Houston in December of 2015.
"He had his ups and downs," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He showed some progress. I was hoping to see him down the stretch to see how well he advanced. Unfortunately, because of the injury, we're not going to be able to tell. I don't want to call it a lost season, but it's a shame that he couldn't finish up."
The Phillies are likely to pursue at least a few veteran starters this winter to buoy the young rotation. There are jobs to be won. Velasquez will have the inside track on one.
"We have to see how the rest of the organization aligns around him," Klentak said. "We'll see what the offseason brings us as far as additional acquisitions are concerned but the hope would be that Vince would still be a starter."
The Phillies have modified their rotation. They placed Zach Eflin on the disabled list with soreness in his right shoulder, although Matt Klentak said he expected Eflin to miss the minimum 10 days. Mark Leiter Jr. will start Wednesday in Eflin's place. The team decided to push Jerad Eickhoff back to Friday, which means Jake Thompson is likely to start Thursday's game. Ben Lively would pitch Saturday. … Yacksel Rios, who had a 1.92 ERA this season as a reliever in the minors, was added to the 25-man roster Tuesday. Rios, 24, struck out 64 and walked 14 in 56 1/3 innings between double-A Reading and triple-A Lehigh Valley. … The Phillies signed Henderson Alvarez, who once threw a no-hitter for Miami, to a minor-league deal. He'll help fortify a depleted IronPigs rotation. Alvarez, 27, had been playing independent-league ball with the Long Island Ducks.