With the Braves leading 4-0 and threatening for more in the third inning of a game they would eventually go on to win by a 15-3 final, Phillies manager Joe Girardi walked to the mound and took the ball from starter Vince Velasquez after just 53 pitches.
Two batters later, Abraham Almonte singled off of reliever Brandon Kintzler to give the Braves a 6-0 lead.
Velasquez wasn’t sharp. He allowed six hits, including a pair of homers, as well as two walks. He recorded just seven outs.
After the game, Girardi gave a rather blunt assessment of what he saw from Velasquez, who now has a 7.55 ERA over his last seven starts.
“Command has not been good. His fastball location was not good tonight, his breaking ball location was not good tonight, especially to the left-handers,” Girardi said. “It’s hard to pitch if you don’t locate the baseball, and he has not been doing that as well as he was early on.”
The early exit taxed the Phillies’ bullpen, leading Girardi to later turn to infielder Ronald Torreyes to record the game’s final five outs.
After a lengthy wait following the game, Velasquez finally emerged to speak with reporters, making it immediately clear that he didn’t agree with Girardi’s third-inning hook.
I transcribed the entirety of his answer in order to provide full context:
I’ve been in that situation where giving up 4 or 5 runs, but I still got to go out and execute to give a chance to the team. Our offense has been pretty good, I would say. Just to try to hold the deficit within four, you know, only 53 pitches, I know I have more room to make kind of those improvements and at least go deep as far as I possibly can. So, it kind of threw me off guard being taken out early, but Joe made the decision.
Nothing crazy here. But in response to a question about not getting deep into games, Velasquez took things a step further:
My intention is to go out there and keep pitching as far as I possibly can, and I know there’s hype, there’s more expectations out of me, but in a situation like that, I can’t do nothing when you take the ball out of my hand. And only 53 pitches, I still have a lot of arm left, man. And at the same time, that’s what starting pitching requires, you have to go out and try to figure out how to get outs. And I was going to utilize a little bit more of the two-seam, didn’t have solid command of the changeup at all, to be honest, but had a little life on it. Got a ground ball on [Stephen] Vogt, and again, I know the expectations are a little bit high, but I think my intension right now is to obviously kind of just swallow it, bite it, take it for what it is, and work on the next bullpen and get ready for my next outing. That’s the only mindset I have right now from here on out. It’s a tough day from my end. It’s kind of embarrassing, to be honest with you, but at the same time, I have to kind of except it for what it is and move on. Get ready for the next start.
He would reiterate his pitch count once more before the end of the session.
My take on his comments?
This isn’t some insane controversy, but Velasquez probably should have stuck to something about needing to be better and called it a night. Still, he was obviously disappointed with his performance, and pitchers want to pitch.
That said, three references to his pitch count, the line about having a lot of arm left, and the other about not being able to do anything when the ball is taken out of his hand made for a spicy mix. I might be missing one, but I can’t recall an instance in which a Phillies player has openly questioned –or pushed back against — one of Girardi’s decisions quite like this.