Tag Archives: Clay Buchholz

2017 Phillies Spotlight Pitcher: Vince Velasquez

The Philadelphia Phillies spent roughly six weeks down in Florida for spring training this year. And for a second straight spring, Vince Velasquez demonstrated power pitching in the Grapefruit League.
Last year, Velasquez was competing to become the team’s 5th starter. He pitched so well that awarding him that role right out of 2016 spring training was an easy decision for manager Pete Mackanin.
This year, Velasquez dazzled once again. Over five spring starts, the right-hander allowed just 12 hits over 19.7 innings with a 25/9 K:BB ratio. He registered a 2.75 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, with opposing batters hitting just .171 off him.
Those nine walks, however, are still a bit too high. But the other numbers continue to reveal his dominating stuff.
Velasquez has a chance to pitch at the very top of the Phillies rotation in the next few years. Of course, his continuing command and discipline issues, and the development of other options, could force him to a high-leverage bullpen role just as easily.

VELASQUEZ BIG LEAGUE CAREER TO DATE

Phillies
Velasquez was the Houston Astros choice in the second round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of Garey High School in California.
He came to the Phillies as the lead piece in a five-player package obtained from Houston in exchange for closer Ken Giles.
Over parts of two big league seasons with the Phillies and the Astros, Velasquez has pitched in 43 games, 31 of those as starting assignments. He has allowed 179 hits over 186.2 innings with a 210/66 K:BB ratio.
A big problem last season was that he just couldn’t get economical with his pitches. Velasquez reached the 7th inning just three times in 24 starts. One of those was his final start of the year in early September. He was shut down in order to limit his workload in another lost Phillies season.
Velasquez had gone over the 100-pitch mark nine times in 2016. In nine others, he reached at least 90 pitches.

HIGH PITCH COUNTS CONTINUE DURING STRONG SPRING

During a late spring start this year, Velasquez had struggled through a long inning. As quoted by Ryan Lawrence with The Philly Voice, pitching coach Bob McClure had a simple message for him: “Six out of 15 first-pitch strikes.”
“Through the game’s first three innings, Velasquez had faced 15 batters. He only threw a first-pitch strike to six of those batters. ~ Ryan Lawrence of The Philly Voice
That kind of performance is going to continue to limit the possibilities for Velasquez on most nights. First-pitch strikes will be a key to pushing his per-game innings from five to at least six full. Getting through six most nights, with his stuff, will give the Phillies a chance to win many of his starts.
Velasquez is slotted into the four-spot in the Phillies starting pitching rotation to open this season. That gets him the honor of starting the Phillies home opener on Friday in front of a packed house at Citizens Bank Park.
This year, for the Phillies to surprise and make a run at the .500 mark, they need a more controlled Velasquez to show up most nights.

VELASQUEZ FUTURE: ROTATION OR PEN?

There have been whispers that perhaps Velasquez’ greatest long-term value to the Phillies will come as a closer. That remains a possibility. But that kind of talk is for another day, another season.
For now, Velasquez, who turns 25 years old in two months, will continue to pitch out of the rotation. Especially with starters Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz as short-timers, and Aaron Nola continuing to struggle physically, his place there is assured in the short-term.
If he continues to struggle with pitch counts over the next couple of seasons, and as the Phillies improve and again begin to emerge as a contender, then a decision may have to be made.
The Phils and their fans hope that Velasquez makes the improvements needed that such a decision never becomes a real consideration.

Phillies 2017: Rotation Depth a Strength, But There’s No Ace

The Philadelphia Phillies have officially begun the six-week spring training process down in Clearwater, Florida. 
One of the likely areas of strength for this year’s version of the Fightin’ Phils would appear to be the starting pitching rotation.
A pair of veteran arms on short-term deals, a bulldog surprise, and a handful of talented youngsters give the club enviable depth on the mound. 
The numbers and talent potential are the most impressive to don red pinstripes in a number of years. However, the fact remains that the club still does not have a true ‘ace’ caliber starting pitcher.
There are some fans who say that a pitcher who takes the top spot in a given rotation is the ace of a staff. I believe that they are defining  the term improperly.
When Phillies fans want to think of a true ace, they don’t have to search very far back in their memory banks. Some of us can slip easily back to memories of Steve Carlton winning four Cy Young Awards. But the Phillies have had a number of true ace-caliber starting pitchers of very recent vintage.
As all but the very youngest fans will remember, the 2011 Phillies team set a franchise record by registering 102 regular season victories. Those wins were largely made possible by the club running four aces out of their rotation. We all remember “The Four Aces”: Roy HalladayCliff LeeRoy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.
None of the current Phillies rotation contenders has that kind of consistently excellent talent. Which is not to say that they aren’t good arms. Again, the rotation is likely to be a strength of this team.

THREE ARMS LEAD THE PHILLIES ROTATION

The two short-term veterans are soon-to-be 30-year old Jeremy Hellickson and 32-year old Clay Buchholz.
Hellickson is being paid $17.2 million this season after the Phillies offered him a qualifying offer last fall, and the rightly, yet somewhat unexpectedly, accepted.
Buchholz was obtained in a trade from the Boston Red Sox just before Christmas. He is owed $13.5 million for the final season of a seven-year deal.
The “bulldog” surprise is right-hander Jerad Eickhoff. The 26-year old who came over from Texas in the Hamels deal during the summer of 2015 has been a consistent competitor ever since being called up from the minors.
For now, Hellickson is likely to pitch at the front of the rotation. He is also the leader at this point for the prestigious Opening Day assignment. But talent-wise, he is more of a #3-type starting pitcher.
He’s in a great frame of mind,” Mackanin said per Philly.com’s Matt Gelb. “He’s so happy to be back here. I’m sure he would have liked to have a five-year, $100 million deal from somebody, but he’s real happy to be here. So we’re happy to have him.

THREE MORE ARMS APPEAR TO HAVE ROTATION SPOTS

Those three are not the only pitchers with a spot earned entering spring training. 24-year old righty Vince Velasquez also has a rotation spot. Velasquez led the rotation holdovers and was second only to reliever Hector Neris in K/9 a year ago.
The fifth spot in the starting rotation would normally already be settled, belonging to 23-year old Aaron Nola. However, Nola remains a major question mark as he tries to return from elbow trouble that ended his 2016 season two months early.
Likely to get the first shot at a rotation berth should Nola fail to return healthy or trouble arise with one of the others is 23-year old Jake Thompson, another gem from the Hamels deal.
The Phillies 2017 starting rotation contributions should come from these six arms. Pete Mackanin hopes to rely upon these pitchers for the majority of his rotation innings. If he can, the team could again improve the overall victory total.
Of course, that is not likely to happen. For one, both Hellickson and Buchholz are squarely on the trade block right from the start.
There are a number of solid young arms here now and others near-ready. The two north-of-30 veterans have their days in a Phillies uniform numbered. Those days should run out some time after the MLB All-Star break in mid-July.
Also, as we all know where big league pitching is concerned, stuff happens. Unexpected injuries of both a short and long-term variety. Severe ineffectiveness due to a loss of velocity or control.

OTHER ARMS FIGHTING AND WAITING FOR A CHANCE

Fortunately for the Phillies there are more arms fighting for those likely opportunities. During spring training, these will be some of the most interesting arms to watch.
Righties Zach Eflin (almost 23 years old) and Alec Asher (25) and lefty Adam Morgan (27 next week) lead this group. All have big league experience. Each has struggled, but also experienced some success.
Another on the cusp of an opportunity is Ben Lively, who turns 25 in two weeks. The 2016 Paul Owens Award winner as the organization’s outstanding pitcher, Lively should not be overlooked.
Short of major injuries, Lively is likely to open at AAA Lehigh Valley. Two more arms destined for the IronPigs and battling to stand out this spring will be 24-year old Nick Pivetta and 25-year old Mark Appel.

NEVER ENOUGH PITCHING OPTIONS

I’ve seen pieces written as the club begins their formal workouts that the Phillies may have too many starting pitchers. I find those types of articles extremely naive.
Inevitably, when we look back at the end of a season, we laugh at thoughts that a team had too much starting pitching. For me, there is no such thing.
We all believe that the Phillies will get to the point of contending in the next couple of years. When it happens, they are going to have to either have developed or spend money on at least one of those true aces to lead the rotation.
For now, the Phillies are in a good place where starting pitching is concerned. There are veterans around to eat up innings for a short period. The club has exciting arms full of potential developing at both the big league and minor league levels.
Watching how the rotation plays out is going to be one of the most interesting stories of the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies season.

Phillies Acquire Clay Buchholz in Trade With Red Sox

According to general manager Matt Klentak, it is the mission of the Philadephia Phillies to have as much starting pitching as possible, and so the club swung a deal today with the Boston Red Sox with that end in mind.
The trade brings in 32-year-old right-hander Clay Buchholz. He was the Red Sox first round pick at 42nd overall in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft out of McNeese State University. In exchange, the Phillies sent minor league second baseman Josh Tobias to Boston.
Buchholz throws a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s, but has reached the upper 90s in the past, and also has a cutter, curve, and changeup in his arsenal.
Over parts of 10 seasons with the Red Sox, Buchholz has gone 76-57 with a 3.97 ERA. He has allowed 1,039 hits over 1,094.1 innings in 184 games, 177 of those as starts. He has a career 850/392 K:BB ratio.

BUCHHOLZ’S EARLY CAREER

Buchholz reached the big leagues quickly, making his first start on an emergency basis for Boston in August of 2007.
He then received a look in September of that season with three more appearances. In fact, in only his second ever big league appearance on September 1, Buchholz threw a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite the no-no, Buchholz was shut down with shoulder fatigue after two more outings. Because of this he was not on the postseason roster as Boston won their second World Series crown in four years that fall.
Buchholz broke camp as a member of the BoSox rotation in 2008 as a 23-year-old. However, he was limited to just 16 appearances (15 starts) by a combination of a torn fingernail and poor performances.
He began the 2009 season back in the minors. But then Buchholz broke back into the Boston rotation in the second half of the season, helping the club reach the playoffs.
There he started in Game 3 of the Division Series. Buchholz left after five solid innings with a 5-1 lead. But the Red Sox bullpen would blow the game in a 7-6 loss. This gave the Los Angeles Angels a series sweep.

BUCHHOLZ’S BREAKOUT

In 2010, Buchholz became a big winner for the first time, going 10-4 in the first half. Because of this, Buchholz was selected to his first AL All-Star team. He finished that year at 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, and allowed just 142 hits over 173.2 innings.
He became a regular member of the Boston rotation in 2011 at just age 26, and Buchholz was then signed to a four-year, $30 million contract extension. However, a stress fracture in his back drove him to the DL in August, and he would miss the remainder of the season.
In 2012 he battled through a couple of apparently minor physical issues to win 11 games over 29 starts. Then in 2013, Buchholz came out like gangbusters. He was the AL Pitcher of the Month for April and was 9-0 when injury struck again. This time a neck strain would sideline him for three months.
Buchholz returned strong in September, and was a member of the rotation in the postseason as the Red Sox drove to a World Series crown.
He made a start that year in the ALDS, and two in the ALCS. Buchholz then also started Game 4 of the Fall Classic, pitching well in a game won by Boston to take a 3-1 series lead.

RECENT INCONSISTENCIES

The last three years have been very much a yo-yo situation, with Buchholz flashing glimpses of greatness around stretches of ineffectiveness.
In 2015, he was the Red Sox starter on Opening Day against, of all teams, the Phillies. He tossed seven innings of shutout ball that day at Citizens Bank Park, striking out nine batters.
Buchholz struggled after beginning this past season in the rotation, and was exiled to the Boston bullpen. Working his way back into a starting opportunity, he was excellent in four of five September starts. In that final month he went 3-0 with a 3.14 ERA, allowing just 23 hits over 28.2 innings and striking out 21 batters.
On October 10, Buchholz was given the start in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. Over four innings he allowed six hits and two earned runs, both scoring on a two-run single by Tyler Naquin in the top of the fourth. The Indians went on to a 4-3 win to sweep the series.

BUCHHOLZ IN THE PHILLIES ROTATION

It is that final month pitcher whom the Phillies are hoping that they are getting. If nothing else, Buchholz will eat up innings for the first four months while their young starters continue to develop.
The price of Josh Tobias, the Phillies’ 10th round pick in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft, is a minimal one. He is not among the club’s top prospects. He split the 2016 season between Lakewood and Clearwater, hitting .291 with a .362 on-base percentage. Tobias had nine homers and 31 doubles, and also drove in 69 runs and scored 70 while playing primarily at second base.
As things stand now, the Phillies rotation will likely be made up of Buchholz, Jeremy HellicksonVince VelasquezJerad Eickhoff, and Aaron Nola. If Nola proves to be physically incapable of going, look for Jake Thompson to take advantage and break camp with the team.
There has not been much recent conversation in Phillies circles regarding Nola, at least not publicly. When last we saw him, the righty was throwing without pain, and it is expected that he will come to spring training hoping to stay healthy. A barking elbow ended his 2016 season early, and so Phillies fans would be forgiven if the name “Tommy John” were to weigh heavily on their minds.
If that worse case scenario does unfold, Zach Eflin and Ben Lively should each find themselves receiving opportunities. That will be based on their own pitching, as well as the effectiveness and health of the others.
Buchholz is a nice pickup for the 2017 season, and is only guaranteed this one final year at $13.5 million. It is a contract that the Phillies can easily absorb.