Phillies

Matt Klentak, Gabe Kapler agree on how Phillies should use Seranthony Dominguez

Matt Klentak, Gabe Kapler agree on how Phillies should use Seranthony Dominguez

Matt Klentak and Gabe Kapler are in lock-step agreement when it comes to how bullpen weapon Seranthony Dominguez has been deployed.

Kapler, the Phillies skipper, hasn’t ruled out using Dominguez as a classic, ninth-inning closer someday. But he prefers to use the hard-throwing right-hander as a kill shot in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth inning, whenever he determines the game to be on the line.

Klentak, the general manager, shares that philosophy and that’s not a surprise. Their shared baseball ideals and a dedication to new-school practices made Kapler an attractive choice when Klentak went searching for a new manager after last season.

“The argument against (using Dominguez exclusively in the ninth inning) is that the ninth inning is not always the highest-leverage situation,” Klentak said Tuesday afternoon. “You can blow a save in the seventh or the eighth or the ninth. Emotionally, it stings more when it happens in the ninth because you feel like you're right there. You're just about to win the game. But if you never get to the ninth inning with a lead in the first place, you never have a chance to win that game. So sometimes using your best relievers earlier in the game is what makes the most sense.”

By all indications, the Phillies are trying to come up with a dependable ninth-inning man from their current bullpen mix. That would allow Kapler to continue to use Dominguez as a wild card. Luis Garcia and Hector Neris got looks in the ninth. Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano will get some looks there. Pat Neshek might get an occasional call there when he returns. Down the road, others will get a look.

The NL East rival Washington Nationals went out and traded for a closer, Kelvin Herrera, on Monday. Klentak would not say whether he was in the mix for Herrera, but he did not rule out trading for bullpen help in the coming weeks — if the Phillies remain in the hunt.

“There's been a handful of [trade] conversations,” Klentak said. “I wouldn't say that the trade market has been hot at this point. Once you get through the draft, those conversations start. It's the proverbial feeling-out process, but I guess every once and a while that might lead to something.”

Before making a trade, Klentak will first try to fill bullpen holes from within. He mentioned that Neshek could be the biggest bullpen acquisition in the game once he’s ready (see story).

“First and foremost, we really do like and trust the group of relievers that we have,” he said. “I am well aware that to date we have not settled on a single closer. I think at some point we might. If organically it works and that's the way things shake out, I think we're open to that. If we had Brad Lidge on this team, he would close. If we had Billy Wagner on this team, he would close. If we had Jonathan Papelbon on this team, he would close. We don't have one of those guys. So we're making due with what we have, which is a pretty good group. Guys like Arano, Dominguez, Ramos — these guys are having, quietly or not-so-quietly, some really good years. Tommy Hunter is having, arguably, the best year of his career right now.

“That doesn't minimize the fact that we've had some really tough losses, some really deflating ninth-inning meltdowns. But the group itself is really talented and we're confident in it. I think at some point in the near future we're going to get Pat Neshek back, who while not a traditional closer, is probably as good a bullpen arm as a team is going to add in the next six weeks. We will see what's available in the trade market — which players are available, what the costs are. We will probably look at that in free agency as well. But we have to maintain the proper perspective on any potential acquisition.”

That perspective involves weighing where the Phillies are in the standings, how realistic their chances at making the postseason are and what the cost in prospects surrendered would be. Despite the improvements the Phillies have made this season, the front office is still in a building mode and it does not want to mortgage the future.

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Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

The calls for Astros players to get suspended have gotten louder and louder as players have descended upon Florida and Arizona for spring training this past week. From Cody Bellinger to Mike Trout to Trevor Bauer to Nick Markakis and everywhere in between, players have made clear how angry they are about Houston's cheating scandal. 

It's going to take a long time for Astros players to gain back the respect of their peers.

It's not some easy fix, though. Astros players were granted immunity from discipline in order for their cooperation in MLB's investigation. MLB cannot, after the fact, revoke that immunity and decide to suspend players knowing what it now knows. That would never fly, and it shouldn't. Whether immunity should have been granted in the first place is the big question, but that point has passed.

Joe Girardi was asked on ESPN's Golic and Wingo Show Wednesday whether he thought MLB's punishment was sufficient.

The Phillies' first-year skipper doesn't think the current punishment serves as much of a deterrent.

"There are some people that lost their jobs that really were the people that had to pay for it, but there were a lot more people involved," Girardi said. "The financial gain for the players is substantial if they have big seasons because of this, so if there's no punishment for them, I'm not sure that it stops. I'm really not sure. Because the financial gain, similar to the steroid era, is very similar. If you know it's coming and you have a big year and you're a free agent, there's a lot (of money) to be made there and players want to take care of their families.

"I'm not exactly sure what the right answer is, but I don't know how much of a deterrent it is for players right now. There's not a huge deterrent for the players and I think there has to be to make sure that it stops."

People made fun of commissioner Rob Manfred for saying this but it should be acknowledged that the public ridicule the Astros are feeling right now will actually serve as some sort of deterrent. That doesn't mean MLB made the right call, that their decision-making process has been sound or that Manfred has done himself any favors publicly. But the disrespect factor around the league and around the country is real. Guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, even a Justin Verlander — will they ever again command the respect they did before this? This is a permanent stain.

MLB recognized how difficult an investigation would have been without cooperation from key figures and went the route of immunity. It's a decision that will be questioned for years.

"If you're not in the clubhouse and you don't admit yourself that you did it, how do you take the word from another player that he was doing it? That's the hard part," Girardi said. "Like, if you get caught with something on your body, that to me definitely should be a suspension and a huge fine. But to say that someone was using it, it's his word against his word, that's pretty tough to penalize a player."

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A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

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