Phillies

Pete Mackanin sounds ready to remove Jeanmar Gomez from closer's role

Pete Mackanin sounds ready to remove Jeanmar Gomez from closer's role

BOX SCORE

Ninth innings like Sunday can happen when your fifth-best reliever is your closer.

Four Phillies pitchers -- Jeremy Hellickson, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and Hector Neris -- had completely silenced the Nationals' potent offense Sunday afternoon through eight innings. 

The Phils were on their way to a 3-0 win when Jeanmar Gomez put two men on the in the ninth and allowed a massive three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman.

It was the second homer Gomez has allowed already this season in three appearances. In two of those appearances, he entered with a three-run lead. One became a one-run save. The other was a blown save Sunday in a game the Phils came back to win, 4-3, on Cesar Hernandez's walk-off single (see Instant Replay).

So, of course, the first question manager Pete Mackanin was asked after the game was about the closer's role.

"I'm going to have a talk with him tomorrow," Mackanin said of Gomez. "I'll have something for you tomorrow. I need to talk with him."

Mackanin deflected a few more questions by saying news would come Monday after he's able to have a conversation with Gomez, but it's pretty clear just by his saying this that a change is coming. The Phillies simply can't afford to be using Gomez in the ninth inning when Neris, Benoit, and even Neshek and Edubray Ramos have better stuff.

Yes, Gomez saved 37 games last season. But it wasn't a dominant 37-save season. Most spent the season wondering when his decline would begin, and in September Gomez completely fell apart, his ERA soaring from 2.97 to 4.85. Mackanin had hoped Gomez's command would be closer to what it was last April through August but it hasn't been. He wanted to begin the season with Gomez closing because he felt he couldn't go back to Gomez if someone else failed early in the season.

But a week into the season, that change could already be on the way.

"We just have to do what we have to do," Mackanin said. "Like I said, I'm going to talk to Jeanmar tomorrow. I didn't talk to him today. I'll have something for you tomorrow. We'll discuss it. It's not something you want to think about. We just have to be practical and do what is best for the team and we'll know tomorrow."

Neris would seem to be the obvious choice because he's a closer-in-waiting with an elite strikeout pitch (his splitter), a mid-90s fastball and a whole lot of confidence.

The problem is, if Neris becomes the closer, then the Phillies won't have that weapon in high-leverage situations in the seventh or eighth innings. Look at Sunday, for example. Neris came in for Neshek with two men on base and two outs in the seventh and got out of the jam, then picked up two huge strikeouts of Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper in the eighth. A lot of times the highest-leverage situations come before the ninth inning. 

That's where Benoit comes in. Benoit has 51 career saves in 16 seasons. He saved 24 games with a 2.01 ERA for the 2013 Tigers and saved 11 with a 2.34 ERA for the 2014 Padres. He's 39 years old but he's been an elite reliever for eight seasons now, posting a 2.39 ERA over his last 442 appearances. And he's still throwing in the mid-90s.

Neris' value as a setup man has to weigh on Mackanin's decision. Plus, using Benoit as a closer would increase his trade value ahead of the deadline.

When asked if Neris' dominance as a setup man will impact the decision, Mackanin again sidestepped. He doesn't want to give reporters the decision before he gives it to Gomez.

Gomez felt he was squeezed by the home-plate umpire Sunday, particularly on Jayson Werth's at-bat in which two pitches just off the outside corner were called balls. Werth walked, setting up Zimmerman's homer. 

Gomez has been used in all sorts of roles throughout his career -- last season was his first as a closer -- so he's not exactly fretting over the likely change.

"You can control what you can control," he said. "You don't have control of [the manager's decision]. You have to get ready for the next situation. When you come to the ballpark, you get ready for the role that you have. You (don't) know the future."

You don't know the future, but you can assume what news is coming Monday.

 

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.



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

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

at_the_yard_fullscreen.jpg
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