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."
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 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.
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).