Phillies

Fueled by faith, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez enjoys a blessed season

Fueled by faith, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez enjoys a blessed season

The Phillies registered their first series sweep of the second half with three wins over the weekend against the Colorado Rockies.
 
Jeanmar Gomez notched saves in two of the games, continuing his outstanding season as the team’s accidental closer.
 
They weren’t the kind of saves Ken Giles was firing up there a year ago, saves seemingly bathed in gasoline and dripping with swings-and-misses and strikeouts.
 
They were typical Jeanmar Gomez saves. The right-hander bobbed and weaved like a boxer on the ropes and relied on poise, smarts and finesse to close out the two games. Yeah, he came away a little bloodied — especially Sunday when he allowed two runs in a three-run game — but for closers the most important statistic is one that doesn’t appear in the box score: handshakes. Gomez has walked off the mound to handshakes 31 times this season.
 
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin reflected on Gomez's season after the pitcher registered his 30th save Saturday night.
 
“It’s very impressive in the respect that he was the last choice to be our closer,” Mackanin said. “We gave everybody an opportunity. He stayed with it and did a good job. He stays poised on the mound. He’s such a great guy and he’s been extremely valuable for us.
 
“Thirty saves. His son was born. It’s been a good year for him.”
 
On Sunday morning, Gomez sat in front of his locker in the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The 28-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela, had just emerged from a pregame workout. He wiped sweat from his brow and smiled.
 
Yes, it has been a good year.
 
Gomez and his wife Luisa became new parents on Aug. 4 when son Matthew was born at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.
 
Usually reporters ask the questions, but Sunday morning Gomez had a question for a reporter.
 
“Do you know what it means?” he said of his son’s first name.
 
“Matthew,” he continued. “It means gift of God.”
 
The blessing of a son has made what Gomez described as the best year of his career even better. He never expected to be the Phillies' closer this year. He reported to spring training in February believing he’d pitch in a setup role with someone else collecting the saves. But after others got a look in camp and David Hernandez and Dalier Hinojosa struggled way back in that season-opening series in Cincinnati in April, Gomez was next in line. He got the job done. Handshakes followed. He’s been on the job ever since.
 
In a year of blessings, Gomez sees his rise to the role of Phillies closer as another one.
 
“It’s a gift,” he said. “I never thought of closing. I was a starter until two years ago. I like it because you have to stay focused all the time because you can’t make a mistake. I don’t throw 99 (mph) so focus and control are everything.”
 
Despite a strikeout rate under 17 percent (the major-league average is 21 percent) and a swinging-strike percentage of just 6.8 percent (the major-league average is 10 percent), Gomez has blown just three saves. Oh, he can still get a strikeout when needed. Witness his work against National League home run leader Nolan Arenado in the ninth inning Saturday night. Gomez fanned the slugger with two men on base in a three-run game. But Gomez's strength remains his ability to locate his sinker, which has helped him produce a 53 percent ground ball rate.
 
“To me, he’s almost like a strikeout pitcher,” pitching coach Bob McClure said. “With a strikeout pitcher, you’re always thinking, ‘All right, he’ll get a strikeout here and be out of trouble.’ With Jeanmar, you’re thinking, ‘All right, he’ll get a ground ball, we’ll get a double play and be out of trouble.’ That’s how well he commands his sinker.”
 
Gomez gave up two runs in Sunday’s 7-6 win. But he might have given up none had second baseman Cesar Hernandez made a better feed to shortstop Freddy Galvis with one out in the ninth. Gomez got his ground ball. A better feed might have equaled a game-ending double play and no runs scored.
 
Gomez has another weapon as closer: his composure. The ninth inning can fray the nerves of even the most seasoned baseball man. Sometimes you wonder if Gomez even has a pulse.
 
“He’s very calm,” McClure said. “That helps.”
 
That calm, Gomez said, comes from his faith. He says a prayer before he steps on the mound.
 
“I ask God to take control,” he said. “That enables me to stay calm.”
 
Many closers have big, excitable, fiery personalities — we’ve seen them in Philadelphia with Mitch Williams, Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon — but Gomez is one of the quietest and most unassuming guys in the Phillies' clubhouse. If humility were a fastball, he’d hit triple digits on the radar gun.
 
Again, that goes back to his faith. He reads the Bible daily and from it draws the inspiration to be strong and courageous, just as it says in one of his favorite passages, Joshua 1:9.
 
“When you have Jesus in your heart you have to be humble,” he said. “When he came to Earth he wanted simplicity for us. That enables you to serve others.”
 
Gomez has served the Phillies so well this season that he has put himself in line for a nice payday this winter. He will be arbitration eligible for the second time. He is making $1.4 million this season. It’s reasonable to think that a 30-plus save season could be worth $4 million in 2017, but Gomez is not focused on riches.
 
“We depend on God, not the money,” he said.
 
Gomez was available for a trade in July, but there wasn’t a whole lot of interest. His pitch-to-contact, bob-and-weave style of closing still doesn’t appeal to a lot of teams who view him as more of a setup man. He could once again be available for a trade this winter with the Phillies looking to Hector Neris or Edubray Ramos as closer next season. But Gomez could also be back in his same role with the Phillies next season.
 
The humble pitcher is open to anything. He is here to serve.
 
“If I continue to get the opportunity to close, I’d like it,” he said. “But I’ve earned nothing. I’m happy with whatever opportunity I get.”
 
If Gomez's ascension to closer has been a surprise, then it’s consistent with his whole career. He did not intend on playing professional baseball. Education is very important to him and his family. His mother, Marbella, is a school administrator in Caracas and his wife is a law school graduate. After graduating from high school, Gomez planned to study Biology at the Central University of Venezuela and later attend medical school. In 2005, the Cleveland Indians offered him a minor-league contract and he decided to give it a try. After years of change, from teams to pitching roles, he ranks seventh in the majors in saves this season.
 
Even Gomez's post-baseball career plans have changed. He no longer aspires to attend medical school.
 
“I would like to try to be a pastor and teach everybody about God,” he said.

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies