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.