Phillies 5, Rays 5: Vince Velasquez determined to improve his curveball

Phillies 5, Rays 5: Vince Velasquez determined to improve his curveball


PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Vince Velasquez wants to be known as more than Vinny Velo in 2017.

That's why his mission this spring is to polish up his curveball.

Velasquez pitched two crisp, scoreless innings in his spring debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday. He allowed a hit and struck out one. The strikeout came on one of the four curveballs that he threw.

"The curveball could be a huge factor if I could locate it and use it whenever I want," he said after the game. "If I can get strikes with my curveball, I won't have to worry about throwing a lot of extra pitches and I'll be able to get guys out earlier."

That could help him stay in games longer, thus addressing another area he needs to improve on if he's ever going to be the No. 1 starter he aspires to be.

Velasquez has the best fastball velocity on the Phillies' starting staff. He averaged 94 mph last season and topped out at 97.8, according to MLB's Statcast. Velasquez threw his curveball 13.6 percent of the time last season, but hitters feasted on it to the tune of a .297 batting average and a .581 slugging percentage.

He will have better success with the pitch if he can get it down consistently. Velasquez said catcher A.J. Ellis stressed that to him in his brief time with the Phillies last season. Ellis told Velasquez that the key to keeping the curveball down was trusting it and throwing it with conviction.

How does a guy with the stuff Velasquez possesses not trust it?

"I don't know," he said. "I have my bread-and-butter fastball and changeup. I just have some type of hesitation with curveballs. I'm afraid of leaving it up, I'm afraid of burying it, bouncing it in the dirt. If I can establish location on that pitch right now, I'm not going to have any doubts during the season. So all those fears, all those doubts, all those hesitations -- it's best to get them out now. Work on them now and when the season comes, there shouldn't be anything to worry about."

Velasquez's troubles keeping his curveball down may stem from his spin rate. Among the 117 pitchers who threw more than 200 curveballs last season, he ranked 74th in spin rate, according to MLB's Statcast.

But don't tell him that.

"Spin rate is ridiculous," he said. "I don't trust spin rate.

"I'm not too worried about my spin. I can't even throw it for a strike right now. So I shouldn't be worried about spin rate; I should be worried about my strike rate."

OK, then.

Velasquez, 24, has the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation talent. He just needs to command everything better, pitch deeper into games and develop the arm durability to be a 200-inning guy.

He believes he can do it. He said Wednesday's outing against the Rays was a good start.

"I realize my potential," he said. "That's why I'm working hard. I would love to be a No. 1 starter. I would love to be an opening day starter. But there are a lot of factors that play into it. I have a lot of work to do to show these people what I can be, and if that's a No. 1 starter, then I want to be that guy."

Manager Pete Mackanin believes Velasquez could one day be a No. 1.

"It's a matter of putting it all together," Mackanin said. "I think he has the capacity, mentally, to make adjustments and learn from his mistakes. Over time, I think he has a chance to be an ace."

The game
The Phillies rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth to earn a 5-5 tie with the Rays. Jesmuel Valentin and Hector Gomez, two projected members of the Triple A infield, both had doubles in the inning and Roman Quinn had a key walk.

Reliever Michael Mariot pitched out of a two-on, no-out jam in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the tie. Catcher Jorge Alfaro's tireless work on blocking the ball paid off as he had two important blocks to help strand a runner at third.

Aaron Altherr led the offense with a double, a triple and three RBIs.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Thursday. All eyes will be on Aaron Nola as he makes his first start of the spring (see story).

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home


The loudest noise made by the Phillies' offense on Monday night was the thud — clearly audible above the small crowd — that Odubel Herrera created when he smashed his batting helmet on the dirt infield after grounding out to third base to end the seventh inning.

Herrera's frustration spoke for an entire team. The Phillies were hammered, 8-1, by the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). They were out-hit, 13-3. The loss was the Phils' 18th in the last 22 games and they have been outscored 126-89 over that span.

The loss left the Phils at 15-27 for the season, matching their worst 42-game start since 2000 when they finished 65-97 in front of tiny crowds at Veterans Stadium in Terry Francona's last season as skipper.

Over the last two games, both losses, the Phils have just six hits.

"Three hits today, three hits yesterday," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

Aaron Altherr had two of the Phillies' hits, both doubles against Colorado rookie Jeff Hoffman, who was very impressive with seven walk-free innings and seven strikeouts.

Herrera went hitless in three at-bats and is hitting just .200 in the month of May and .232 overall — not what the front office expected when it signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in the offseason.

"It's very frustrating because I feel like I am being selective and waiting for my pitch, but when I make contact things don't happen," Herrera said. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat well, but I'm just missing."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up nine hits, seven of which were singles, and four runs over six innings. Four of the hits that Eickhoff allowed came in the third inning when the Rockies scored three times. Two of the runs scored on a flare double and the other on a groundball through a drawn-in infield.

"I executed a lot of good pitches," Eickhoff said. "I got a lot of the contact I wanted. The ball just didn't land in the gloves."

Eickhoff did not walk a batter. He struck out four.

Despite being 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA in nine starts, the right-hander believes he has made strides his last two outings. He gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings in his previous outing at Texas. Prior to that start, he worked on fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery.

"These past two have been night-and-day different," he said. "I felt great today and in Texas and I'm going to keep that positivity going."

Finding other things to be positive about with this team is becoming difficult.

This Phillies team was not expected to contend; it is still in a rebuild. But things weren't supposed to be this bad, either.

"I'll tell you what, I'm getting frustrated, too," general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. "This team is better … there is more talent on this team than we've shown in terms of our record.

"We'll pull out of it. We will. That's what talented players will do. I'm not going to tell the fans they shouldn't be frustrated. We've gone through a tough stretch.

"But I'm not ready to call it regression. I think there's been a lack of consistency on our team in general, with some players more than others. There's been a lack of consistency, but especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression."

At 29-17, the Rockies have the best record in the National League. They have 16 road wins, which is one more than the Phillies have overall. The Rockies are in town for three more days. This ugly start could get even uglier.

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Max Kepler homered and drove in four runs, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco each had a career-high four hits and the Minnesota Twins roared back to beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-7 Monday night.

Minnesota trailed 5-0 in the second inning and 6-2 entering the fifth before cranking up the offense against Ubaldo Jimenez and an ineffective Baltimore bullpen.

A two-run double by Kepler helped the Twins knot the score in the fifth, Minnesota sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run sixth and Sano added a two-run homer in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for the Twins, who reached season highs in runs and hits (21).

Adam Jones hit a three-run drive in the second inning off Kyle Gibson (1-4) for Baltimore (see full recap).

Peacock, Astros 1-hit Tigers
HOUSTON -- Brad Peacock and three relievers combined for a one-hitter and Jose Altuve provided the offense with an RBI double to lead the Houston Astros to 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

Peacock was solid moving out of the bullpen to make a spot start for injured ace Dallas Keuchel. In his first start since September, Peacock allowed the lone hit and struck out eight in 4 1/3 innings. He was lifted after walking Tyler Collins with one out in the fifth inning.

Chris Devenski (3-2) took over and pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win before Will Harris pitched a scoreless eighth. Ken Giles struck out two in the ninth for his 12th save to allow the Astros to bounce back after being swept by the Indians over the weekend.

Detroit's only hit was a single by Mikie Mahtook with one out in the third on a night the Tigers tied a season high by striking out 14 times. The team's only baserunner after Collins was Victor Martinez, who was plunked with one out in the seventh. But Houston still faced the minimum in that inning when J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end the seventh.

The Astros struck early against Michael Fulmer (5-2) when George Springer drew a leadoff walk before scoring on the double by Altuve to make it 1-0 with one out in the first (see full recap).

Homers help Yankees top Royals
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Chris Carter homered, and the New York Yankees once again downed Jason Vargas by beating the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Monday night.

A reversed umpire's call in the seventh inning kept the Yankees ahead and enabled Michael Pineda (5-2) to top Vargas for the second time in a week. The Royals, with the worst record in the AL, have lost five of seven.

Vargas (5-3) began the day with a 2.03 ERA, tied for second-best in the majors. But the lefty fell to 0-7 lifetime against the Yankees when he was tagged by Gardner and Gregorius, the only left-handed hitters in the New York lineup (see full recap).