Velasquez's odds of securing a rotation spot to open the season could take a hit if the schedule is shortened, as that could allow the Phillies to promote top pitching prospect Spencer Howard as the fifth starter at the beginning of the campaign, Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Velasquez hadn't secured the fifth starter job before play was paused, as Nick Pivetta and Ranger Suarez were still in an open competition with him. Howard has only made six starts at the Double-A level, but his 34.8 percent strikeout rate, 0.83 WHIP and 2.03 ERA in 15 total minor-league starts last season offer a glimpse of his significant upside. The combination of Howard's talent and a potentially shortened season could conspire to relegate Velasquez to a long-relief role to start the season, though he'd likely be one of the first few options called upon should a starter get injured.
Velasquez allowed four runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts across four innings during a no-decision against the Marlins on Friday. He didn't pitch long enough to qualify for a victory, but it didn't matter Friday because the Marlins and Phillies needed 15 innings to settle this affair. Velasquez had limited value down the stretch because he didn't pitch past the fifth frame after Aug. 5, but he did yield under three earned runs in four of his last six starts this year. He ends the season 7-8 with a 4.91 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 130 strikeouts in 117.1 innings.
Velasquez (7-8) took the loss against the Indians on Sunday, completing 4.2 innings and giving up four runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks while striking out six. Velasquez gave up a single run through his first four innings but was done in by poor defense and a game-changing long ball in the fifth. The frame opened with a pair of errors -- one of which was committed by Velasquez himself -- and was blown open when Oscar Mercado homered to drive in three runs and break a 1-1 tie. The home run was the 25th Velasquez has surrendered in 113.1 frames this season, and his 1.99 HR/9 ranks eighth-worst in the league among pitchers with 100 or more innings. He'll carry a 4.76 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 127:43 K:BB into what's expected to be his final start of the season, a home matchup against the Marlins on Friday.
Velasquez (5-5) allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out eight across five innings to earn the win Tuesday against Atlanta. Velasquez began the game on a rocky note, allowing both of his earned runs to cross the plate in the first frame. However, he allowed just three baserunners across his next four innings of work to tame the Braves' bats. While this outing showed plenty of potential, Velasquez has worked five innings in just two of his last five starts. He'll have the chance to replicate his success in his next start, currently scheduled for Sunday at Cleveland.
Velasquez is listed as the Phillies' probable starter for Tuesday's series opener in Atlanta. The Phillies are using Friday's off day to reshuffle the rotation, with manager Gabe Kapler electing to move ace Aaron Nola and No. 2 starter Jason Vargas ahead of Velasquez in the pitching schedule to keep them on their normal four days' rest. The adjustment means that Velasquez will miss out on a start this week, as he hasn't pitched since giving up four runs in 4.1 innings Sept. 8 versus the Mets. After another day off Monday, the Phillies will finish out the regular season with a stretch of 14 games in 13 days, with Velasquez tentatively lining up for three starts during that span.
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