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

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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.

 

Phillies touch base with agent Scott Boras on Mike Moustakas and free-agent pitchers

Phillies touch base with agent Scott Boras on Mike Moustakas and free-agent pitchers

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Scott Boras, baseball’s most high-powered agent, has forged an undeniable chemistry with the Phillies and owner John Middleton, in particular, over the last two years. It started with the pursuit and eventual signing of Jake Arrieta before the 2018 season and reached a crescendo last winter when the club signed Bryce Harper to a staggering $330 million contract.

Boras will look to capitalize on that chemistry again this winter. The Phillies have needs and he has solutions.

On the pitching side, Boras represents several free-agent starters, including the two biggest stars on the market, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He also represents lefties Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the majors’ ERA champ in 2019.

The Phillies, as documented, are very much in need of starting pitching.

They also could look to add a third baseman this winter as they allow top prospect Alec Bohm more development time and consider a possible move to another position for him. Boras represents two top free-agent third basemen, Anthony Rendon and Mike Moustakas.

It is likely that the Phils will look to spend the bulk of their free-agent budget on pitching — and it’s difficult to argue with that approach. That could leave the Phillies as interested bystanders in the Rendon sweepstakes as Rendon is seeking a lengthy, mega-dollar deal. The Phils will certainly monitor the market for Josh Donaldson, another free-agent third baseman, but the best fit in terms of dollars and years might be Moustakas, who has played the last two seasons in Milwaukee on one-year contracts.

According to multiple sources, Phillies officials touched base with Team Boras here at the general managers meetings this week and the two sides discussed a number of subjects — and not just pitching.

In other words, Moustakas is very much on the Phillies’ radar.

The Phillies' most pressing need remains starting pitching. Cole is the biggest name on the market. The Phillies will be in the hunt for him, though the Angels and Yankees may pull out all the stops to sign him to what could be a multi-year deal worth more than $250 million. Boras disclosed Wednesday that he recently had lunch with Angels owner Arte Moreno. He would not say if he’d recently broken bread with Middleton.

“Well," he said with a grin, "I’ll let John tell you about that."

Boras, as he typically does at the general managers meetings and winter meetings, which arrive next month, talked up his top clients in florid language.

“If this were major-league Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that clearly wanted a lump of Cole,” he said, referring to his stud right-handed client. “I think starting pitching has become back in vogue. It’s an aggressive market.”

Boras employed an oceanic analogy when referencing Strasburg.

“In the oceans of the playoffs, the Strasburg sank many contending ships,” he said.

Strasburg, along with fellow ace Max Scherzer, helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series last month.

“There are general managers who I said four or five years ago to that, ‘You’re going to have a very hard time winning a world championship if you don’t sign this player.’ And I’m very happy to say that player was Max Scherzer,” Boras said. “I told that to three teams and they have not won and he did win.

“The reality of it is that those No. 1 kind of guys, those special arms, take you through the playoff seas. You have to have them because when it comes down to that, you end up throwing 70 percent of the innings (in the postseason) among three guys. 

“It all boils down to what’s important to (teams), what’s important to their ownership, what drive do they have to get to where they are really going to take risks. All of these things are risks in their minds. But that’s how you win. You take risks. You pay Max Scherzer $30 million a year when no one else would, and by doing that, you’ve been rewarded.”

Boras became convinced that Middleton wants to win after the Phillies signed Harper last winter. 

“I don’t see any stop sign in John’s pursuit of his goal and that’s a world championship,” Boras said. “He’s an owner that has been very straightforward about his path and his commitment. He’s very, very involved in the franchise and it’s really good to see owners really be that committed to their city, to their team. We should really have a dynamic where when people are that involved, they’re going to be as competitive as they feel they need to be to create the winning product they want.”

Boras said the economic value of Harper’s signing with the Phillies — i.e., branding, attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, etc. — “will pay the next two years of Harper’s contract.” Harper is more than just the Phillies’ right fielder. He is an influential voice in the organization and his will to win is as strong as the owner’s.

Would Harper, Boras’ mega client, push Phillies ownership to sign one of Boras’ big free-agent pitchers, or, perhaps, one of his third basemen?

“Knowing Bryce, I’m sure that he will be offering a lot of opinions about how to get better and what to do and I’m sure they are listening to him as well,” Boras said.

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Phillies move closer to hiring hitting coach, but could they lose staff to Gabe Kapler and Giants?

Phillies move closer to hiring hitting coach, but could they lose staff to Gabe Kapler and Giants?

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies are looking to have a hitting coach in place in the next week or so, according to general manager Matt Klentak.

The field of candidates has been thinned with veteran hitting coach Chili Davis returning to the New York Mets. By all indications, that leaves Joe Dillon and Matt Stairs as the two finalists for the Phillies’ job, though it’s not uncommon for late candidates to emerge. The Phillies interviewed both Dillon and Stairs last week and were in contact with Davis, as well. Dillon has been Washington’s assistant hitting coach the last two seasons. Stairs was the Phillies’ hitting coach in 2017 and the Padres’ hitting coach in 2018.

Dillon might be the favorite because of his close connection to Kevin Long, Washington’s hitting coach. Long was hitting coach with the Yankees during Joe Girardi’s time as manager of that club. Girardi, the Phillies' new manager, has great respect for Long’s work and Long has called Dillon the best assistant hitting coach in baseball.

“I think we’re looking for the best possible candidate to work with our guys, and obviously with a new manager it’s going to be important that the person is on the same page philosophically with Joe,” Klentak said of the hitting coach job. “We’re interviewing people with a variety of backgrounds, some of whom this would be their first time as a hitting coach and others that have done it for some time. We’re just looking for the best possible candidate. We’re not going in with a specific resume that someone has to have.”

At the moment, hitting coach is the only opening on the Phillies’ coaching staff. However, it would not be surprising if another spot were to open now that the San Francisco Giants have named Gabe Kapler manager. Kapler was fired as Phillies skipper last month and could seek to take a member or two of the Phillies’ holdover coaching staff with him. Potential departures could include first base/outfield coach Paco Figueroa, assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero, catching instructor Craig Driver or bullpen coach Jim Gott. All are under contract with the Phillies for 2020 but the club might let one or two of them go so Girardi could have more say in building his coaching staff. Girardi oversaw the hiring of pitching coach Bryan Price and, obviously, has much say on the hitting coach hire.

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