Vince Velasquez using spring to work on timing, control

Vince Velasquez using spring to work on timing, control

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin wants his pitchers to control the running game, and Vince Velasquez is becoming a believer in his teachings.

Velasquez said he focused on holding the ball longer and occasionally throwing a quick pitch to disrupt the timing of the runners and batters during his outing Saturday against the Blue Jays.

With Blue Jays leadoff man Kevin Pillar at first base, Velasquez held the ball longer and executed a slide step on his delivery. Pillar got a bad jump and catcher Andrew Knapp got the throw to Cesar Hernandez in plenty of time to put the tag on Pillar.

"We talk about it on a daily basis," Mackanin said. "You can make a baserunner worried about trying to steal a base or get picked off and the hitter's got to worry about if he's going to quick-pitch me. It can screw you up in the head."

After a slow start in the first inning, Velasquez got into the Blue Jays' head and retired seven of the final eight batters he faced.

Velasquez gave up two hits and a run with four strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.

"I think everything was located down," Velasquez said. "I was impressed with the curveball. It was well located. I got swings and misses, some ground balls and that just made my fastball more electric. I got a lot of swing and misses on it. 

"Everything was located well, my changeup was low or in the dirt, just trying to change eye levels. They got the first run with me pitching to contact. I probably threw more pitches than I wanted to, but I settled in after the first inning."

Velasquez said holding the ball is becoming more natural to him and he's seeing how his subtle changes in timing can throw a hitter and a runner off balance.

"You look at [Johnny] Cueto and he has a little fancy delivery," Velasquez said. "Things like that come into play. He gets lit up sometimes and sometimes he doesn't but that's the game of baseball. You got to keep them guessing. In this game, you can't be [predictable] all the time or the hitters are going to time you."

Velasquez also showed off his competitive side when he felt like he was being squeezed by home plate umpire Junior Valentine on a couple of pitches to Pillar in the first inning. 

Pillar ended up with a single in the at-bat and eventually scored on a hit by Justin Smoak. Velasquez had a problem with two pitches and tried to let Valentine know about it.

"Did you see me coughing? That was a fake cough," Velasquez said. "I was like 'c'mon bro, wow, how do you miss that?' You go back to the computers and you watch that and tell me if that was a ball or not. That was 100 percent a strike. There were two of them, two in a row."

Velasquez was able to joke about it Saturday but conceded that he needs to make sure he keeps his emotions in check and doesn't let his displeasure with a bad call become too obvious.

Mackanin, however, likes his pitcher's competitive nature.

"We want true competitors, although you need to compose yourself," Mackanin said. "There were a couple of questionable calls that I thought might have been strikes, but you have to put that behind you and get the next hitter. It's like pitching around an error. You have to get past it."

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tim Tebow is moving up and heading south -- to some very familiar territory.

Tebow has been promoted to the New York Mets' high Class A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. The 29-year-old Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships in football and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy during his stellar career with the Gators.

"I'm not sure how much of an additional challenge it will be," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Sunday in San Francisco. "Clearly it's a step up. I certainly think he can handle it."

Tebow began his first pro baseball season with Class A Columbia, drawing huge crowds at home and wherever the Fireflies went in the South Atlantic League. He entered his final Fireflies game batting .222 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

"I wouldn't say he has excelled there, but at the same time, what he's done there -- given all the circumstances -- justified the promotion to Port St. Lucie," Alderson said.

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

PHOENIX -- Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick both tested their achy body parts on Sunday.

Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper back strain, threw two 15-pitch "innings" in the bullpen and was pleased with the results.

"It felt good, no sense of pulling," he said. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Eickhoff's turn in the rotation will come up Wednesday in Seattle. If he can't make the start, Mark Leiter Jr. will. Leiter pitched six shutout innings in his first big-league start on Friday night.

As for Kendrick, who is battling left hamstring tightness, he was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game on Sunday. He did run some sprints under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan before the game.

"He still feels it, but he's available to pinch-hit," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Is this getting close to being a situation that would require a trip to the disabled list?

"Hopefully not," Mackanin said. "Hopefully he's better tomorrow. If not, I'm hoping he can at least DH in Seattle (on Tuesday). He's one of our best hitters and I want to get him in there. But I've got to be cautious."

Kendrick already spent six weeks on the disabled list with an abdominal injury earlier this season. He's played well when healthy, hitting .355 (43 for 121) with a .414 on-base percentage in 31 games.

The Phillies need to be certain that Kendrick is healthy when they turn him loose because he could hold some trade value in the month of July and a full-blown injury would hurt that.