McClure believes Velasquez will turn it around

McClure believes Velasquez will turn it around

PITTSBURGH -- Can Vince Velasquez be saved?

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said Sunday morning at PNC Park that Velasquez, 24, will conquer the demons that have prevented him from fulfilling his potential as a reliable pitcher in the Phillies rotation.

"The timetable?" McClure said. "I don't know the timetable. All I know is that it's going to happen."

Velasquez allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Pirates. He is 2-4 with a 5.98 ERA this season and 2-7 with a 6.38 ERA in 13 starts since August. He has failed to pitch six innings in five of eight starts this year and 16 of 32 starts since he joined the Phillies in December 2015 as the prized piece in the Ken Giles trade.

"I'm just clueless right now," Velasquez said. "I'm just running around like a chicken without a head."

Velasquez's issues are more mental than physical. He gets himself in trouble in a game, everything speeds up and he loses control.

McClure and Velasquez had a long talk on the field before Sunday's game.

"When it starts to unravel what's going through your mind?" McClure said beforehand. "How are you thinking there? Are you thinking more, 'Oh, here we go again?' Or are you thinking, 'OK, this is what I need to throw in this situation and this is where I need to throw it?' I'm their pitching coach. I have to stand behind them, but I also have to tell them the truth of what I see and how I think it would help you improve."

The reality is the Phillies have talked with Velasquez about these things on more than one occasion, but they have not been applied yet.

But McClure thinks it will click with Velasquez. He has seen it happen in the past.

McClure coached Zack Greinke from 2006-11 in Kansas City. Greinke went 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA in 33 starts in 2005. He suffered from social anxiety disorder and nearly quit baseball in 2006. Greinke spent most of 2007 in the Royals' bullpen before returning to the rotation in 2008. He went 16-8 with a 2.18 ERA in 2009 to win the American League Cy Young Award.

Roy Halladay got sent to the Minor Leagues twice in 2000 before emerging as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. Cliff Lee got sent to the Minors in 2007 after he already established himself as a successful starter.

McClure believes Velasquez can make it happen in the big leagues, rather than working in Triple-A.

"I don't think Vince is there. I really don't," McClure said about a demotion. "I just think he has to improve on how he looks at things, his perception of things. That's how you improve. Stay straight with yourself. Understand what happened. How do I fix it? Try that. It doesn't work? Try this. Without an overhaul. It's more of how you perceive what's going on."

And bumping Velasquez to the bullpen? No way. Not now.

"I would rather him pitch in the rotation because I think when he finally addresses these things, I think you're going to see a guy who can manipulate a lineup, can manage a lineup and get through it," McClure said. "I really do."

Velasquez is scheduled to make his next start Thursday against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.