Pittsburgh Pirates Grapefruit League: Vince Velasquez Set For Important Start

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Saturday evening's start could prove to be an important one for Vince Velasquez and settling the final spot in the Pirate starting rotation

Friday night the Pittsburgh Pirates tied the Detroit Tigers 6-6. With this tie, the Pirates are now 9-14-4 in Grapefruit League play. Saturday night they will play their final primetime game of the Grapefruit League when they host the Baltimore Orioles at LECOM Park.

When the first pitch is thrown on Saturday evening it will be thrown by righty Vince Velasquez. Velasquez signed a one-year deal with the Pirates this offseason with the idea that he would be in the team's starting rotation. However, since then, the team has also signed Rich Hill, while Velasquez has struggled this spring and JT Brubaker has left no doubt that he'll start the season in the team's starting rotation.

Now, Velasquez's rotation spot could be up in the air. Velasquez will be part of the team's Opening Day roster but that could now be as part of the bullpen. This make Saturday's start an important one for Velasquez.

While Velasquez appeared to enter the spring with a spot locked up in the Pirate starting rotation he could still be in a battle. Johan Oviedo, who was acquired as part of the José Quintana trade last summer, has pitched more effectively than Velasquez this spring, has better stuff, and has a higher ceiling that could make him a long-term starting rotation building block for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Velasquez has pitched 9.0 innings in Grapefruit League action. He's allowed 8 eanred runs (9.00 ERA) on nine hits, six walks, two home runs, and seven strikeouts. This comes on the heels of a 2022 season that saw Velasquez appear to be starting a transition to a relief role.

Velasquez posted a 5.26 ERA, 5.20 FIP, 8.7% walk rate, and a 20.2% strikeout rate in 39.1 innings pitched as a starting pitcher with the Chicago White Sox last season. Meanwhile, he posted a 4.25 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 6.8% walk rate, and a 23.3% strikeout rate in 39.0 innings pitched.

It's not hard to see that the stats paint a pitcher who is more effective as a relief pitcher than as a starting pitcher. Additionally, the Pirate bullpen is one that is in need of a boost. This was the case entering the spring, even before Jarlín García and Robert Stephenson were injured. Velasquez could provide a needed boost to the bullpen, while having Oviedo in the final rotation spot would make the rotation better. That seems like an obvious decision to make. If Velasquez struggles again this evening, that could be a step toward the Pirates having him start the season in the bullpen.

Saturday night's first pitch is scheduled for 6:05 PM ET. You can watch the game locally on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh. The game will also be on the Pirate Radio Network, as well as MLB.tv and the MLB At-Bat App.

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