The Pirates announced today that right-hander Vince Velasquez has been placed on the 15-day injured list with right elbow inflammation. His roster spot will go to fellow righty Chase De Jong, who has been reinstated from his own IL stint, which was due to a lumbar spine muscle sprain. Additionally, infielder Drew Maggi cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Altoona. The club’s 40-man roster count is now down to 39.
Velasquez was removed from yesterday’s game after throwing just 54 pitches in three innings. During the broadcast, he could be seen grabbing at his throwing elbow, video courtesy Justice delos Santos of MLB.com. After the game, he spoke to Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and didn’t seem especially worried. “I’m pretty optimistic about it,” Velasquez said. “I’ve been in situations like this before. I’m glad I stopped when I needed to. If I would’ve kept going it probably would’ve been more severe. I just have to be optimistic and then go from there.”
Despite that lack of concern, it seems the club will give him a chance to rest up, either out of an abundance of caution or because testing revealed a bit more severity than he expected. It’s still unclear what kind of absence the club is forecasting but they will proceed without Velasquez for at least a couple of weeks.
Velasquez has long been an intriguing pitcher with some strong strikeout numbers at times but he’s been fairly inconsistent and also had trouble with the long ball. For his career, he has a 4.84 ERA with a 25% strikeout rate, allowing home runs on 14.2% of fly balls. Signed by the Pirates to a one-year, $3.15MM deal this offseason, he’s had a good start to his 2023 with a 3.06 ERA after seven starts. There might be a bit of good luck in there, however, as his .250 batting average on balls in play and 82.4% strand rate are both on the fortunate side of average. His 4.10 FIP and 4.51 SIERA suggest he’s actually been closer to his norm than he might appear on first blush.
For as long as he’s out of action, the Bucs will likely need to find a fifth starter to join Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Rich Hill and Johan Oviedo. They have a few off-days later in the month that will lessen the need, but they’ll likely need at least a spot starter or a bullpen game to get them through to their next day off on May 11.
Luis Ortiz would be one option, as he’s on the 40-man roster and already made his major league debut last year. He has a 2.45 ERA through six Triple-A starts so far this year and is scheduled to start for Indianapolis tonight. The Bucs also now have an open 40-man spot and could turn to a non-roster option. Quinn Priester is one of their top prospects but he has a 5.96 ERA through his own six-start opening to the year for Indianapolis. He also started yesterday and won’t be an option for a few days.
The open roster spot comes via Maggi’s outright. The infielder became a feel-good story recently when the Pirates selected him a couple weeks ago. He had spent over a decade toiling away in the minors, having made his professional debut in Low-A back in 2010. He was with the Pirates at that time but subsequently bounced to the systems of the Angels, Dodgers, Cleveland, Twins and Phillies before finally making his MLB debut this year, just shy of his 34th birthday. He got into three games before being optioned to the minors last week.
Maggi actually has a previous outright in his career, as he was briefly on the Twins’ 40-man roster in 2021. That gives him the right to reject this assignment and elect free agency, though it’s not clear if he’s chosen to exercise that right or not.