Notes: Kapler With Some Insight on Velasquez, Bruce Optimistic, Haseley Will Get a Shot

PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC HARTLINE-USA TODAY SPORTS

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I was going to pass on the news and notes stuff tonight, but I’m sitting in the press box during the midst of what is now pushing a 90 minute rain delay (and counting), so let’s do some notes, baby! Hell yeah!

We will lead things off with Vince Velasquez, who allowed four homers and failed to finish five complete innings against the Dodgers last night. He showed plus stuff early on and finished the night with seven strikeouts, but he just couldn’t keep the ball in the yard.

Fun fact: Phillies pitchers entered play Wednesday having allowed 20 more homers than any other National League team. In fact, both their starting pitchers and relief pitchers lead the NL in homers allowed. 

Anyway, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler says Velasquez will make his next scheduled start against the Pirates this weekend “as of right now.” Translation: Velasquez will start on Sunday.

Kapler also addressed what he saw from Velasquez, who has only completed six full innings once in his 11 starts this season.

“I think it was very, very clear, every fastball that he threw at the top of the zone, no damage. Every time he missed down in the zone, damage,” he said. “That’s the takeaway. It’s really simple. I talked to him about it today.”

Here’s what Gabe means when he says “down in the zone.”

In terms of where the Phillies would like to see Velasquez live his fastball, Kapler specifically referenced the 95 mph heater at the top of the zone that Velasquez used to blow away Alex Verdugo in the first inning.

Pitch three. That’s the good stuff.

This seems pretty simple, right? Throw the ball in the zone, get strikeouts, don’t get knocked out of the game in the fifth. So what gives? Why is this so difficult for Velasquez? I thought Gabe gave a pretty insightful response on the problem and what the Phillies are doing in an attempt to rectify it:

One thing that I know that our pitching group is working on it constantly, we’re toying with some targeting stuff, some things that we’re talking through there. I’ll sit him down, and we’ll watch it together and I’ll ask him because coaching is not one way, it’s not “Here’s all the information – go do something with it.” It’s like, “What were you experiencing when you threw that pitch? Were you trying to execute that pitch up in the zone and you just missed down? Or was it something about your conditioning where you’ve been told throughout your career that you’re safe down and away that led you to try to throw the ball there?” And then see what he says. There are no quick fixes in coaching. It’s over time – a conversation that moves the needle just enough where a guy takes a step forward and we’re still trying to figure that out with Vince.

Good shit, Gabe.

You’ll notice that he talked about “targeting,” which is basically a catcher’s pre-pitch setup. As he explains it, some pitchers prefer a catcher’s mitt to sit at the precise target, while others want a lower target, so they can instead dial in on another visual key, like a catcher’s mask. Seems like a pretty minor thing, but at this level, even the smallest tweaks can produce noticeable results.

Ideally, you would like a guy who has made 87 career starts to have things figured out by now, but the Phillies don’t have many other options at the moment. Maybe that changes between now and July 31, but as it stands, they have a starting rotation that’s pitching to a 5.31 ERA in July. In fact, Phillies starters not named Aaron Nola have surrendered 33 ER in 38.2 IP this month. That’s a 7.68 ERA. That group is also averaging less than 5 IP per start in July.

I can keep going, but you get the idea.

Jay Bruce Feeling Optimistic Despite IL Stint

Jay Bruce is heading to the IL. The term “oblique” was initially thrown out there, which usually means at least 4-6 weeks of rest. Both Bruce and the Phillies, however, are encouraged by the early prognosis. Kapler used the word “optimistic” when referring to Bruce’s injury, while the outfielder had a similar rosy outlook when he talked with reporters prior to the game.

“It still hurts when I cough and I rotate, but it’s the day after, so I’m just going to take a few days and let it calm down,” Bruce said. “Try to keep my legs under me as far as conditioning goes and stuff like that, but play it by ear, really. But yeah, I think it’s more on the mild side and shorter side of the timetable.”

Setbacks happen, but this isn’t a true oblique injury. Bruce said it was more in the front of his body, near the ribs, and feels like it should be closer to a two-week absence, not a two-month one.

Kapler was asked what losing Bruce means to his team.

“I think you kind of lose – either in the lineup or off the bench – you lose the veteran presence who understands how to approach most pitchers and has a lot of experience against many of them. So it’s a veteran presence, it’s a high-quality professional at-bat, it’s a guy who attacks fastballs and attacks pitches in the zone, but is also disciplined.”

It’s also a guy who was on pace for 37 home runs, so yeah, his absence will probably sting a little bit.

Nick Williams Returns After Tearing It Up At Lehigh Valley

Nick Williams has had little success with the Phillies this season, but seemingly found something during his most recent stint at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He returns to the Phillies hitting .345 with a 1.032 OPS with the Iron Pigs. That will play. Williams admitted his demotion that came back on June 17 beat him up a little bit, but that it was ultimately good for him.

“I want to say this was kind of a time, I guess, for myself to just really figure out who I am, and kind of figure out what I do good, and things like that,” he said. “Really try to figure out myself as a player. It was tough, you know, one of the hardest things. I continue to battle it, but I’ve been keeping a positive mindset and just been playing my butt off, and it’s been working out.”

Williams is in the Phillies’ lineup tonight, but don’t necessarily expect him to get the bulk of playing time with Bruce out of the lineup. For now, it sounds like Kapler will give Adam Haseley the first crack at it.

“I’m committed to getting Adam Haseley reps,” he said, while also noting that Williams has an opportunity to earn playing time, too.

David Robertson Slowly Progressing

Phillies reliever David Robertson threw a bullpen session yesterday. Kapler reports that Roberston was more optimistic regarding his progress today than he’s previously been. When asked if Tommy Hunter’s recent forearm injury may have impacted Robertson’s mindset as he works his way back, Kapler was direct.

“I can’t imagine that it doesn’t. When you watch other people encounter issues, you wonder if they’re going to happen to you, too,” he said. “Coming back from injuries are very challenging, I did it quite a bit, and I do think you learn a lot from other players experiencing [things].”

Radio Hits

I jumped on with Harry Mayes and Eytan Shander on 97.3 ESPN earlier this afternoon. We hit on a bunch of different Phillies-related topics. Here’s a cut of that:

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