Phillies

Phillies

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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.