By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Charlotte Stone Crab fans who attended games both on Wednesday and July 21 may have thought there were two different Andrew Velazquez’s playing third base.
Velazquez, typically a middle infielder, was manning the hot corner on July 21 for the first time in 2016, and it showed. In the 10th inning of a 3-2 loss against Brevard County, Velazquez made a pair of errors which led to the winning run for the Manatees.
“Nobody wants to make errors. Especially when the game is on the line,” Velazquez said after Wednesday’s 6-1 loss against Palm Beach. “That’s part of the game. You’re going to make errors. You’re going to strike out in big situations. You just have to learn from it and not beat yourself up too much.”
Wednesday was Velazquez’s third time since July 21 at third base, and it proved to be a charm.
Between more in-game experience and extra reps during batting practice, Velazquez looked like a natural on Wednesday, and even saved multiple runs.
“Usually shortstops can pretty much play any position,” Charlotte manager Michael Johns said. “It just took some time with familiarity. He played a nice third base tonight. Made some big plays, and saved some runs where it could have gotten even uglier.”
With one out, and runners on second and third, Velazquez flawlessly fielded a ball which took a late hop and appeared as if it was going to bounce over his head. Velazquez leaped, grabbed the ball, froze the runner at third, and fired to first for the second out.
“I think today I felt a little more comfortable,” Velazquez said. “Just getting a little more acquainted with the position. It’s a little different footwork. I think more than anything — even more than the throw — it’s the footwork that’s the difference-maker there, and how hard the ball comes in there.”
That play was Velazquez’s fourth assist of the night, and he also had a putout on a flyout to shallow left field. Velazquez had another nice play on a groundball earlier in the game, as he’s now proving to be a valuable utility infielder.
All of these improvements came, despite the fact that you can find him at second base one night, shortstop the next, back at second base, and then over to third base on the fourth night.
“If that’s something that’s going to help me get to the big leagues, that’s something I’m willing to put up with,” Velazquez said.