By Jay McMullen
The sound you heard yesterday emanating from Citizens bank Park yesterday was Phillies Nation sucking in and holding its break.
Vince Velasquez left the game after throwing just two pitches in an 8-1 loss to the Cubs.
Velasquez’s fastball registered only 86 and 87 mph on the radar gun, which were red flags, considering his fastball averaged 95 mph this season.
“‘Something’s wrong,'” Velasquez said he thought to himself after he peeked at the scoreboard.
The Phillies said Velasquez has a strained right biceps. He will be reevaluated today, when he could have a MRI exam.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Velasquez said.
The Phillies hope the injury is nothing, although it is a smart bet Velasquez will miss some time. Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer is a candidate to replace Velasquez in the Phillies’ rotation. So are Triple-A pitchers Zach Eflin and David Buchanan, among others. Eflin is not on the 40-man roster, but has pitched well. Buchanan is on the 40-man roster.
Velasquez posted a 2.42 ERA through his first eight starts this season, dominating opponents in the process. He allowed just 34 hits, 13 earned runs, 15 walks, three home runs and struck out 59 in 48 1/3 innings. But in his three starts before Wednesday, he posted an 8.31 ERA, allowing 22 hits, 12 earned runs, seven walks and five home runs while striking out 14 in 13 innings.
Velasquez said he felt nothing in his arm before yesterday, which could have accounted for his recent struggles. He said he first felt a twinge in his right arm in the bullpen before the game and notified pitching coach Bob McClure. Velasquez then asked to wait for a moment before he threw a few more pitches in the bullpen. He told McClure that he felt better, but McClure still informed manager Pete Mackanin and head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan about the situation.
Velasquez said he wanted to test the arm on the mound in pregame warmups, which he did. But he obviously looked different. Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp and shortstop Freddy Galvis noticed and spoke with him on the mound.
“‘There’s no need to push it,'” Rupp said he told him. “‘You don’t need to hurt yourself and make anything worse.'”
Velasquez threw his first pitch of the game to Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler. Rupp caught it, glanced at the scoreboard and saw the fastball hit just 86 mph. Rupp immediately looked into the Phillies’ dugout.
“We’ve got to get him out of there,” Rupp said.
Velasquez threw one more pitch, which Fowler hit for an out to right field. The Phillies pulled the plug there.
“We looked at the velocity of the two pitches and said, ‘No,'” McClure said.
The Phillies want to be smart about Velasquez, who was the key piece in the Ken Giles trade with Houston in December. The Phillies originally agreed to send Giles to the Astros for a four-player package that included right-handers Velasquez and Thomas Eshelman, Oberholtzer and outfielder Derek Fisher.
But the Phillies had concerns about Velasquez’s physical. He had Tommy John surgery in 2010, but sources also said the club had concerns about his shoulder.
In the end, the trade got delayed a few days and was reworked. The Phillies sent Giles and Minor League infielder Jonathan Arauz to the Astros for five pitchers: Velasquez, Eshelman, Oberholtzer, Mark Appel and Harold Arauz.
Velasquez said he does not believe the biceps strain could lead to something like another elbow surgery.
“It’s just more in the biceps area,” he said. “It’s just something that’s probably more minor. This is not something to be too worried about.”
Cubs pitcher John Lackey, who had Tommy John surgery in 2011, issued words of caution, however.
“A lot of times that’s code for elbow,” Lackey said about Velasquez’s diagnosis as a biceps injury.
Time will tell about its severity.
“I think I’ll be fine,” Velasquez said. “I don’t think I’m going to miss that much time, but I don’t know what to expect. I can’t give you a legitimate answer because I don’t know what’s going on. From what I know, it’s a strain and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”