Most Phillies fans learned who Vince Velasquez was on the same day. It was back in April, when the newly acquired hurler struck out 16 batters in an electric Citizens Bank Park debut.
Since then, the starter has been a solid piece of the Phils' rotation, but he's dropped off a bit. His ERA has been steadily increasing, as has his WHIP.
Is that because the Phillies are not utilizing him in the correct role?
The 23-year-old (who turns 24 on June 7) hasn't been able to get deep into games and has allowed his fair share of base runners of late. His electric fastball seems to sit around 94-95 mph.
With Jeanmar Gomez leading the NL in saves, most Phillies fans are satisfied with the bullpen situation. But Gomez will start to get a book on him and major league teams could solve him in the next few months. And even if he doesn't, Velasquez has the tools to do the job pretty darn good.
When the Phillies contend again, they need to have a dominant closer.
Velasquez seems to have the makings. He has prior experience in the bullpen from his days with the Astros and is still a strikeout beast — he has 73 in 61 innings pitched.
In his most recent outing, Velasquez only made it through 4.1 innings (needing more than 90 pitches). He is struggling after his fast and impressive start.
"It's frustrating. I can't give you a legit answer because I don't know what's going on right now," Velasquez said. "I've got to figure something out. It's just one of those stages where you're dealing with adversity. You've got to enjoy the failure, you've got to fight through it. Right now it's getting the best of me. My only job is to work on it tomorrow, go back to film, see what I've got to do. I've got to work on 0-2 counts and try to get ahead of hitters, which I was doing in the beginning [of the season]."
With just 17 career MLB starts it's very early for Velasquez. And going from starter to closer is nothing new — not even for the Phillies, who turned Brett Myers into their game-ender when they reached the playoffs for the first time (since 1993) back in 2007.
Velasquez is a fastball-changeup pitcher, and if it turns out he is not suited to throw seven innings a night, or 200 innings per year, the bullpen could be where he really shines. The Ringer's Michael Baumann says: " we know, right now, that Velasquez can be an effective big league closer."
The Phillies also have some extremely promising pitching talent coming up the pipeline, many of whom project as starters (Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher...). The best way to get the maximum amout of talent up to the big league level could be to move a few guys — like Velasquez — into different roles.
We also know he has the stuff to strike out anyone in the major leagues. It's up to him and the Phils' front office to determine how he best fits in when the team starts to make real, bona fide run at the playoffs in the coming seasons.