Paging Dr. Velasquez: Vinny Velo is ready to cover for injured Seranthony Dominguez

Paging Dr. Velasquez: Vinny Velo is ready to cover for injured Seranthony Dominguez

With seven relievers on the injured list and the latest of the wounded — Seranthony Dominguez — likely out for the remainder of the season, the Phillies need something to feel good about in their bullpen.

Could Vince Velasquez end up being their Dr. Feelgood?

He certainly was Friday night.

Two weeks after coming off the injured list himself and moving to the bullpen, Velasquez registered three high-power, high-pressure outs to help the Phillies beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-2, in front of an appreciative crowd of 32,058 at Citizens Bank Park.

Zach Eflin pitched well, Jay Bruce continued to swing his magic wand (he has four homers and nine RBIs in four games since joining the Phils), and the Reds made two errors that led to two runs as the Phillies maintained a two-game lead in the NL East and improved to a robust 21-11 at home.

Just as important as all of the above was the work of the bullpen. Lefty Jose Alvarez got two big outs against the middle of the Reds’ order in the seventh to protect a one-run lead. Velasquez got three outs, including two Ks, to protect a one-run lead in the eighth, and Hector Neris closed out the two-run game for his 13th save.

That’s seven scoreless innings — in close contests — for the bullpen over the last two games, both wins.

Velasquez, the talented but inconsistent right-hander, has been under the microscope since moving to the bullpen two weeks ago. He’s got the stuff to be a force late in games, but can he actually put it all together in that role? So far, he’s made six relief appearances — three good ones, one OK one, and two bad ones.

With Dominguez out, manager Gabe Kapler entrusted Velasquez with the eighth inning in a one-run game. He got Jesse Winker to ground out before striking out Yasiel Puig and Jose Iglesias. Velasquez' fastball hit 96.8 mph on the gun.

“We knew we were going to put him in a situation like that prior to the game,” Kapler said. “We knew that we were going to put him in a high-leverage situation. It felt like it made sense to give Vince a clean inning and the bottom part of the lineup to demonstrate that he had his fastball. He did. He had a pretty good slider, as well, and got swings and misses. He got on his fastball right away, which is exactly what we ask of him. If he pitches like that, he can pitch in any inning.”

Does Velasquez become more important with Dominguez out?

“I think he does,” Kapler said. “I think that’s spot on. We lose a guy who took on high-leverage innings for us and if we can gain one in Vince it makes the blow a lot less powerful. It’s going to be a blow nonetheless, but it certainly softens it.”

Before the game, general manager Matt Klentak indicated that Dominguez could be facing Tommy John surgery, which would put him out for the rest of this season and a chunk of next season. Klentak stopped short of saying anything definitive because Dominguez is slated to receive a second opinion.

Dr. Feelgood unwittingly gave the second opinion when asked if he was ready to pick up Dominguez’ high-leverage innings.

“Yeah,” Velasquez said. “Unfortunately he's down for the rest of the year. I don't mind coming in and try to fill in for him. I know it's a big role. It's a different mindset going into that inning, but I'm fully capable physically, mentally, whatever it may be, to come in and close the doors in that inning and then allow Neris to come in and shut the door like he did today.

“Today was a great demonstration of what could continue happening. I'm very optimistic about any type of role. I'm just always on my feet getting ready and waiting for that phone call. I mean, it's an honor to be in that position if it is my role and just go from there.”

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Phillies' bullpen problems mount as Seranthony Dominguez could face elbow surgery

Phillies' bullpen problems mount as Seranthony Dominguez could face elbow surgery

The Phillies reported back to work on Friday and were greeted by some bad news.

Reliever Seranthony Dominguez’ elbow injury is more serious than initially thought.

Depending on what a second medical opinion finds, he could be out for the remainder of the season and part of next.

General manager Matt Klentak disclosed that Dominguez had “damage” to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Yes, that’s the bad one, the one that if damaged significantly enough requires reconstructive (Tommy John) surgery and more than a year of rehab time.

“Based on the second opinion, we'll come up with a treatment plan and one of the options may be Tommy John surgery, we just don't know,” Klentak said.

It was not immediately known who would provide the second opinion or when it would come.

Dominguez was firing 98-mph fastballs in San Diego on Tuesday night. The next day, he threw 14 pitches and walked off the mound with pain in his elbow. He had an MRI back in Philadelphia on Thursday and the results were distressing.

“Ser’s bummed. We’re bummed,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s a challenging time.”

The Phillies’ bullpen has been hit extremely hard by injuries. Dominguez becomes the seventh reliever currently on the injured list,  joining Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, Pat Neshek, David Robertson, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos. Arano is likely out for the season. Hunter and Ramos could be back by the end of the month. Morgan is just starting to throw.

What gives with all of these injuries?

“We're definitely digging into it,” Klentak said. “I wish I had a good answer for you or a direct answer.

“A couple of weeks ago when we were in Chicago, our manager was criticized for being too conservative with the bullpen. I do think, in large part, Kap often operates to try to protect the guys and not to overuse them and overwork them to the point of, in the Chicago series, it became a big topic of conversation. 

"As I look back at the last year and a half of our season and looking at the bullpen, it's hard to say that we've overworked anybody or abused anybody. Kap's been really careful about back-to-backs and not dry-humping guys in the bullpen. Their innings totals and their appearance totals are not that crazy at all, especially relative to the rest of the league. That's the first place you look just to see, is there something we could do differently? We don't see it there. 

“The next place you look is in the training room and these work habits and offseason programs and things like that. We've not been able to identify anything that is markedly different or worse than what we've done in prior years.”

Klentak shifted gears as he continued to talk about a possible cause for the epidemic of injuries that has hit the bullpen.

“This is not a factual assessment, more my own observation,” he said. “As the power in the game continues to escalate, and by power I mean hitters but also what the pitchers need to do to combat the power at the plate, I think it stands to reason that is putting more stress on players’ arms. They’re throwing harder, they’re throwing more breaking balls – this is not the Phillies in particular, but more kind of a league-wide trend — and it’s possible that that is contributing to more injuries.

“We also have to leave open the possibility that it’s some combination of those things, and also maybe a bunch of (stuff) happened to us at once and it was bad luck. I’m not saying that it is bad luck, but it’s certainly possible.

“I can assure you and I can assure Phillies fans that we’re looking into it and if there’s anything we can do to adjust that we will do that. But right now we have not found the exact reason.”

Klentak said the injury to Dominguez was another opportunity for members of the current bullpen to “step up.” Vince Velasquez could find himself pitching in the eighth inning. In the coming weeks, the Phils will get some of their wounded back. And though he would not admit it, Klentak will surely look for bullpen upgrades outside the organization.

One such potential upgrade — All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel — signed with the Cubs the day Dominguez injured his elbow.

The Phillies had some interest in Kimbrel, but not at the three years, $43 million he got from the Cubs.

Would the Phillies have been more aggressive trying to get Kimbrel if Dominguez’ injury had occurred, say, a week earlier?

“Probably not,” Klentak said. “I don't know. We obviously didn't find out (the severity of Dominguez’ injury) until a little while ago.

“I'm not supposed to talk about other teams' players so I'll try to make this more broad than talking about that player. In the last couple years, we've signed several veteran relievers to two-year deals, but multi-year deals nonetheless. Each of them has spent time on the IL. There have been reasons why we signed those guys to try to bolster the bullpen and I'm not saying we'd never do it again, but I do think we need to be mindful of the realities of relief pitcher health, especially multi-year commitments to veteran guys. The track record is not great.”

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The Sore Elbow Gang adds another member as Seranthony Dominguez goes down

ap_seranthony_dominguez_phillies.jpg
AP Images

The Sore Elbow Gang adds another member as Seranthony Dominguez goes down

SAN DIEGO — Though the Phillies pulled off a come-from-behind, 7-5 win over the San Diego Padres to end a six-game West Coast swing Wednesday, the trip was still borderline disastrous.

The Phils lost leadoff man Andrew McCutchen for the remainder of the season with a knee injury on Monday.

On Wednesday, valuable reliever Seranthony Dominguez walked off the mound with a sore right elbow.

Dominguez would not speak with reporters after the game.

Manager Gabe Kapler described the right-hander as having symptoms of a mild strain. Kapler said there was no immediate concern for the ligament, but more will be known after Dominguez has an MRI in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Dominguez left the game after facing three batters in the eighth. He had also pitched Tuesday night. In fact, he looked quite good in that game, hitting 98 mph on the radar gun.

Regardless of what the MRI shows, Dominguez is likely to land on the injured list. That’s a high-residency area for Phillies relievers as Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, Pat Neshek, David Robertson, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos are already there. Arano is likely out for the season. Hunter could be back by the end of the month. Morgan is just starting to throw.

Can the Phillies survive another key reliever going down?

“Totally fair question, but probably a little premature,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We’d like to learn as much as we can before we go down the road of how to solve for being down another reliever. We’re not there yet. That doesn’t mean we weren’t going to start thinking about it immediately, but we’ll get him looked at tomorrow with the off day, so we have some time to game plan for what comes next.”

The Phillies addressed a need when they acquired slugger Jay Bruce earlier this week. There are clearly more needs that must be addressed. The Phils will need help in the starting rotation and bullpen if they are going to break a seven-year postseason drought.

Dominguez’ injury freshened the clamor for the Phillies to sign free agent Craig Kimbrel. He, however, signed a multi-year deal with the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. The Phillies had interest in Kimbrel dating to the offseason, but they favored a short-term deal. The Phils are banking on a healthy return of some of their injured veteran relievers.

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