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

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

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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).

Instant Replay: Marlins 7, Phillies 4 (Game 2)

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Instant Replay: Marlins 7, Phillies 4 (Game 2)

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The Phillies fell behind early and never made it back in losing Game 2 of a doubleheader to the Miami Marlins, 7-4, on Tuesday night.

Miami swept the doubleheader. The Marlins won the first game, 12-8 (see Instant Replay). Miami has won nine of its last 11 to pull to .500 at 62-62.

The Phillies, meanwhile, slipped deeper into the abyss at 45-79.

The Phillies hit eight home runs in the doubleheader, but could not win a game. The Marlins hit six homers in the two games.

The Phils were out-hit, 27-16, in the doubleheader.

Starting pitching report
Nick Pivetta needed 46 pitches to get through the first inning. He got only one out in the second inning before being lifted. In all, he gave up seven hits and six runs. Two of the hits were homers, a two-run shot in the first and a three-run poke in the second.

Pivetta, 24, has a 6.73 ERA in his first 19 big-league starts. That's the second-highest ERA by a Phillie in his first 19 career starts. Only Hal Elliot, with a 7.45 ERA in his first 19 starts in 1929-30, had a higher mark.

Marlins right-hander Jose Urena gave up five hits and three runs over five innings. Two of the hits were homers.

Bullpen report
Right-hander Yacksel Rios, called up from Triple A earlier in the day, became the 13th player to make his big-league debut for the Phillies this season. He pitched a scoreless inning and two-thirds.

Kyle Barraclough pitched two scoreless innings for the Marlins.

At the plate
Tommy Joseph and Andres Blanco homered in both ends of the doubleheader.

Blanco's homer capped a 14-pitch at-bat against Urena that included seven two-strike foul balls.

Nick Williams hit his seventh homer since coming up from Triple A. It was a 445-foot bomb to dead center.

Marcell Ozuna smacked a two-run homer to highlight the Marlins' three-run first inning. Christian Yelich smacked a 2-0 pitch from Pivetta for a three-run homer as the Marlins went ahead, 6-0, in the second inning.

J.T. Realmuto had three hits for Miami.

In the field
Miami centerfielder Yelich leaped at the center-field wall and stole a two-run homer away from Williams in the fifth inning. It would have been Williams' second homer of the night.

Two innings later, rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton sprinted into the gap and made a diving catch to take extra bases away from Cameron Perkins.

Up next
The series continues on Wednesday night with Mark Leiter Jr. (1-3, 4.38) pitching for the Phillies against Marlins lefty Justin Nicolino (2-1, 4.11).

Instant Replay: Marlins 12, Phillies 8 (Game 1)

Instant Replay: Marlins 12, Phillies 8 (Game 1)

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Phillies pitching gave up six runs in the top of the seventh inning — all on home runs — in the team's 12-8 loss to the Miami Marlins in the first game of a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday.

Aaron Nola gave up two of the home runs en route to his second straight loss.

Rhys Hoskins belted his sixth homer in his 12th big-league game for the Phillies.

The Marlins had 10 extra-base hits, including four homers, en route to out-hitting the Phillies, 14-8. The Phils did hit five homers.

The Phillies are 2-5 against Miami this season and 45-78, worst in the majors, overall.

Starting pitching report
Nola (9-9) had his second consecutive poor outing after racking up 10 straight strong ones and a 1.71 ERA over that span. Nola was tagged for nine hits, including four doubles and two homers, and seven runs in 6 1/3 innings. He gave up seven hits and five runs in his previous outing in San Francisco.

Miami right-hander Dan Straily gave up just two hits — one was a two-run homer by Hoskins — and three runs over six innings to improve to 8-8. He had his second 10-strikeout game against the Phillies in three starts this season. 

Bullpen report
Ricardo Pinto surrendered a three-run homer to J.T. Realmuto in the ninth.

Miami's Dustin McGowan gave up three late homers as he turned a big lead into a not-so-big lead.

At the plate
The Phillies hit five home runs. 

Hoskins scorched a liner over the center-field wall with a man on base to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead in the first inning. Cameron Rupp homered for the third time in his last three games to tie the game at 3-3 in bottom of the fifth. Cesar Hernandez and Tommy Joseph each had a solo homer, and Andres Blanco had a pinch-hit, two-run shot in the ninth.

Joseph snapped an 0-for-18 skid with a double in the seventh. His homer in the ninth was his first since July 28.

Nola gave up a walk and a single to open the seventh. He then surrendered a long, three-run, pinch-hit homer to Ichiro Suzuki as the Marlins broke a 3-3 tie. Giancarlo Stanton hit his majors-high 46th homer two batters later, also off Nola. Marcell Ozuna added a two-run homer in the inning against Jesen Therrien. Realmuto clubbed the Marlins' fourth homer, a three-run shot in the ninth.

Transactions
The Phillies transferred pitcher Vince Velasquez to the 60-day disabled list and put pitcher Zach Eflin on the 10-day disabled list. Velasquez will have a surgical procedure this week (see story). Reliever Yacksel Rios was added from Triple A.

Up next
Nick Pivetta (4-8, 6.25) pitches against Marlins right-hander Jose Urena (11-5, 3.61) in the second game of the doubleheader.

The series continues on Wednesday night with Mark Leiter Jr. (1-3, 4.38) pitching for the Phillies against Marlins lefty Justin Nicolino (2-1, 4.11).