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March 28, 2016

Velasquez wins Phillies fifth starter job

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A slew of Monday morning roster moves brought a conclusion to the most interesting competition in Phillies camp this spring.

The resolution to the fifth starter competition: the hard-throwing Vince Velasquez will complete the all right-handed Phillies rotation when the regular season begins next week while former prospect Adam Morgan will start the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Morgan was sent to minor league camp on Monday, along with relievers Elvis Araujo, Luis Garcia, Chris Leroux, Bobby LaFromboise and Reinier Roibal, outfielder Darnell Sweeney, infielder Angelys Nina, and catcher Logan Moore.

“It was a very tough decision,” manager Pete Mackanin said of opting for Velasquez over Morgan. “It was a nice situation to have to decide something because we think the world of Morgan. He pitched very well this spring. We like both of them. We like Velasquez’s power arm. We want to see him in the big leagues. We know what Morgan is capable of doing. Nobody ever stays with five starters the whole year so he’s going to be back in the big leagues this year.”

"I'm upset, but there's nothing you can do about it, it's out of my control," Morgan said. 

Morgan's numbers say he outpitched everyone in camp. He said he wasn't given much of an explanation for the coaching staff or front office personnel of why he was headed out. They only told him to "keep working."

"Never getting a real answer is probably the hardest part," Morgan said. 

The Phillies regular season begins a week today with veteran Jeremy Hellickson taking the ball on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Aaron Nola will follow (and get the home opener assignment on April 11), and then Charlie Morton will take the ball in the third game of the season.

Some combination of Jerad Eickhoff and Velasquez will follow in the next two games at Citi Field in New York. Both will stay behind when camp opens to get additional work in Clearwater before joining the team in Cincinnati for Monday’s opener.

When camp opened last month, the race for the vacant fifth starter spot involved Velasquez, Morgan, and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, who like Velasquez, came over from the Houston in the December trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros. But Oberholtzer was shifted into a relief role with two weeks remaining in camp.

Both Velasquez and Morgan were on tap to pitch in the first two games on the schedule this week, but on Sunday in Fort Myers, Mackanin said a decision would come before either took the mound. Velasquez will still start this afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Morgan, meanwhile, will pitch in a minor league game rather than in the penultimate home game of the spring on Tuesday against the New York Yankees.

“It was hard,” Mackanin said of Morgan, who had been nearly flawless after surrendering a home run to Alex Rodriguez in his first start of the spring four weeks ago. “It’s never easy. In the past, we’ve been trying to find somebody to fill those roles. We have more guys that we can carry. He did throw strikes. He pitched extremely well. We like what we saw out of Velasquez and we want to give him an opportunity show what he can do at the big league level, and knowing that Morgan is ready, willing, and available (when we need him).”

Mackanin was asked if Velasquez entered the competition with a slight edge over the competition since he was viewed at as the prize of the Giles trade.

“Possibly,” he said. “But it’s like when you’re in the minor leagues and you’re told not to – when you’re talking about certain players, just because a guy was a No.1 pick, don’t give him any preferential treatment. Or a No.2 pick. The guys who are high draft picks, you don’t want to look at them any differently than a 30th round pick because it’s not fair. Sometimes it happens, but in this case that didn’t even enter into it for me. We like his stuff. He’s got good stuff. And I want to see him in the big leagues.”