CLEARWATER, Fla. – Losing hard-throwing reliever Seranthony Dominguez was a huge blow to the Phillies last season and now there is fear his absence will extend into the new season, which begins in just 15 days.
Dominguez, according to sources, has experienced a setback in his recovery from an elbow strain that kept him on the sidelines for four months last season.
Over the last week, Dominguez has pitched twice in Grapefruit League games. The setback apparently occurred on Sunday when he pitched an inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. Dominguez struck out two batters and hit 95 mph on the stadium radar gun in that game.
The severity of Dominguez’ setback is still being determined. Wednesday is an off day in Phillies camp and more information on the pitcher’s condition is expected later in the week. Given Dominguez’ history, it’s difficult to envision him being part of the opening day bullpen and reasonable to wonder if his absence could be lengthy.
A starting pitcher in the minors, Dominguez rocketed his way to the majors after converting to the bullpen in spring training 2018. As a rookie that season, he appeared in 53 games, often as manager Gabe Kapler’s favorite high-leverage weapon, struck out 11.5 batters per nine innings and recorded a 2.95 ERA and 0.931 WHIP.
By the start of 2019, Dominguez had emerged as a major building block for the team, a power arm capable of getting big outs with the game on the line. But Dominguez was not the same pitcher in 2019. His fastball velocity suffered a slight decline and he had trouble duplicating his success from the previous year. He allowed 8.8 hits per nine innings, up from 5 the previous season, and his WHIP was 1.459 when his season ended June 5 in San Diego after his 27th appearance.
That proved to be a disastrous series for the Phillies. They also lost leadoff man Andrew McCutchen to a torn ACL in that series. That injury will also affect the new season as McCutchen will open on the injured list.
After returning to Philadelphia from San Diego, Dominguez was diagnosed with a strained ulnar collateral ligament. General manager Matt Klentak was quite open in discussing the possibility that Dominguez would need Tommy John surgery and require more than a year of recovery. Even Dominguez admitted that he would need a “miracle” to avoid surgery.
Dominguez appeared to get his miracle when he visited with superstar orthopedic surgeon James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews recommended a conservative recovery. Dominguez was treated with a PRP injection and rest and rehab was prescribed.
By August, Dominguez was doing some light throwing again. Late in the month, he experienced more pain in the elbow, but still not enough that the experts recommended surgery.
Throughout the winter, Dominguez continued his recovery and the reports were good. At the start of spring training, the big challenge was slowing Dominguez down because he was feeling so good in bullpen workouts. But the intensity of a pitcher’s work and the stress on his arm increases in game action and now, after just two Grapefruit League appearances, there is concern once again for the 25-year-old right-hander.
The Phillies’ bullpen was riddled with injuries last season. In addition to Dominguez, Adam Morgan, David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano all went down. Management was hopeful that the majority of these relievers would come back as healthy difference-makers in 2020 and Dominguez was at the top of that list. Of the group, only Morgan projects as a sure bet for opening day. Arano and Hunter should not be far behind. Robertson, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, hopes to return during the second half of the season.
Dominguez’ situation creates even more uncertainty in an already an unclear bullpen picture as opening day speeds toward us.
The Phillies will carry eight relievers. There appears to be four locks in Hector Neris (closer), Morgan, Jose Alvarez and Francisco Liriano. Two from the trio of Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Ranger Suarez could end up in the bullpen while one works in the starting rotation. That leaves two spots. Arano could be a possibility if he’s far enough along in his recovery from elbow surgery. Edgar Garcia, Deolis Guerra and Reggie McClain, all on the 40-man roster, are possibilities, as are non-roster candidates Bud Norris, Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker and Drew Storen.