Vince Velasquez made his Major League debut in Chicago.
Pitching for the Houston Astros, Velasquez allowed three hits, scored five runs and scored four runs in five scoreless innings against the White Sox on June 10, 2015.
The right-handed batsman, who signed a one-year deal with the Sox after the lockdown, got a guaranteed-rate field start against the Seattle Mariners in the home opener on Tuesday.
“It kind of brings back some memories, a welcome thing,” he told the Tribune on Sunday. “It’s really an honor to open in front of Chicago knowing this was my debut.
“What the atmosphere and the city of Chicago can bring to the table, and that’s the energy you want to live with and indulge in.”
Velasquez and Dallas Keuchel are scheduled starts for the first two games of the series. Manager Tony La Russa plans to continue talks with coaching staff on Monday regarding options for Thursday’s series finale.
Flexibility and creativity will be the key as the Sox try to navigate the opening schedule without injured starters Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito.
“This is a unique season based on last year’s season, which was different from a 60-game season,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said on Sunday. “Injuries are to be expected. Obviously you don’t want to deal with them or definitely affect the first game of the season, but our player development staff has people here to help us out. Have done a great job.
Lynn could miss the first eight weeks of the season following surgery on his right knee to repair a torn tendon. Giolito started his opening day on Friday with a left abdominal tightness after the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers. La Russa said an optimistic timeline would mean Giolito misses out on two starts with “a lower abdominal strain”.
“We want to be smart,” Katz said when asked about Giolito. “We don’t want any setbacks. He’s going to push the envelope to come back as soon as possible. We just really have to trust the medical staff and when they think he’s ready, we ramp him up.” You can start doing it and let it go.
“But they don’t believe it’s going to be very long. Hopefully it’s a couple starts. Plus we have a long road ahead of us, so we have to be smart.”
When it comes to potential fill-ins when Lynn and Giolito are out, Katz said, “everyone has a choice.”
“Vince is an option, we have some people who are not here as potential options, people who are in the clubhouse as substitutes,” Katz said. “We just have to get creative and try to weather this storm and find the matchup that best suits the other team’s lineup.”
Velasquez, 29, won a combined 3-9 last season for the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres with a 6.30 ERA and 101 strikes in 25 games (21 starts).
“There’s some stuff he’s worked on from a delivery standpoint,” Katz said. “And that includes some little things that we’ve added. And just talking a lot about his use: how we want to set things up and how we want to use things and we’re more with his pitches. Do what you can to help him be consistent. Those have been the main focus points.”
Velasquez is ready to contribute in any way possible.
“Unfortunately we don’t have our full arsenal (of pitchers) but we are making the best use of what we have got and we are coming out with a bang,” he said. “The same mentality is going into the domestic opener. I have a complete vision to continue what I’m working on.
“I talked to Tony about it and it was really about simplicity. It’s a matter of simplifying things and having the mindset to go out and win the series. That’s what it comes down to.”
Velasquez looks to continue the string of solid outings by Sox starters Giolito, Dylan Cez and Michael Kopech. Keuchel will follow them on Wednesday. For now, the Sox like Renaldo López work out of the bullpen; He had a 3.43 ERA in 20 outings (nine starts) last season.
“I think it’s difficult for (Lopez) to take (the bullpen role) out of him without Joe (Kelly),” La Russa said on Sunday. Kelly is on the injured list, recovering from a right biceps nerve injury.
“(Lopez) has gained so much versatility this way. Joe comes back and we’ll see what the starting position can be. We’ve got our fingers crossed on (Johnny) Cueto as well.”
Veteran Cueto, who reportedly signed a minor league deal last week, will get work at the Sox complex in Arizona before moving to Triple-A Charlotte.
Katz and Cueto have been in a relationship since Katz was an assistant pitching coach for the San Francisco Giants in 2020.
“If you want to know where Kyoto is, just look at his Instagram,” Katz said. “I know his being in shape is not an issue. He is in shape. It remains to be seen on his Instagram, which he encounters with some of the younger Dominican kids. We need him to face some minor-league players first.
“When he’s ready, I’m sure he’ll knock on the door, and we’re going to knock on Triple A’s door to let us know he’s ready too and we’re going to go from there.”