Craig Kimbrel

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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Jay Bruce? Dallas Keuchel? Craig Kimbrel? How 'bout Ken Giles? Action heating up for Phillies

Jay Bruce? Dallas Keuchel? Craig Kimbrel? How 'bout Ken Giles? Action heating up for Phillies

LOS ANGELES — There’s a lot of action brewing beneath the surface in the Phillies organization, some that could improve the team in the short term, some that could improve the team in the long term.

The long-term matter is clear: Baseball’s annual draft begins Monday night. The Phillies pick 14th overall and hope to land a player that will make a significant contribution down the road.

But there are matters with more potential immediate impact brewing.

The arrival of the draft means free-agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are no longer tied to draft-pick compensation. Teams can sign either pitcher without having to surrender a pick in next year’s draft.

Plenty of teams are looking for starting pitching so Keuchel, a former American League Cy Young winner, could sign quickly.

Ditto for Kimbrel, a seven-time All-Star and four-time National League saves champ.

The Phillies need help in the rotation and bullpen.

It’s not difficult to see that.

What are their chances of signing Keuchel or Kimbrel?

More on that later.

In addition to pitching, the Phillies are looking to upgrade their bench, specifically with a left-handed power bat. The loss of Odubel Herrera, for however long that will be, has intensified the need.

Sources on Saturday confirmed an ESPN report that the Phils were in talks with Seattle to acquire veteran slugger Jay Bruce (see story). The ESPN report painted the deal as imminent. Several sources disputed that characterization, saying talks were not that far down the road.

Clearly, however, something is going on between the Mariners and Phillies. We’ll see if it gets to the finish line.

“I think it’s clear that a left-handed bat would be helpful for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said before Saturday night’s game against the Dodgers. “Speaking generally, I think it’s always good to have a veteran pinch-hitter, a guy who can have an experienced and high-quality plate appearance in a big moment. I also think that a profile like that, in general, fits our club.”

Bruce, 32, has 300 homers in his career and 14 this season to go with a .212 batting average and 53 strikeouts in 165 at-bats. He is owed about $23 million through next season. The Phillies, according to a source, would not take on all of that money if the deal goes through.

The Phils are in no real danger of going over the luxury tax threshold of $206 million this season. Next season would be more of a concern as the Phils would like to extend J.T. Realmuto’s contract. They also have a number of players due pay raises through salary arbitration.

As for pitching additions, the Phillies need help in the rotation and the bullpen.

That brings us to Keuchel.

Are the Phils in on him?

Several sources have indicated that the Phils are not hot on the left-hander’s trail. He threw a simulated game for interested teams several days ago and the Phils did not attend.

As for Kimbrel, the Phils have had interest dating to last season, but not for the big-dollar, multi-year deal he has sought. If Kimbrel would take a one-year deal, the Phils might be ready to tango. But it appears he could get a better deal elsewhere, maybe from division rival Atlanta. The Braves are also in on Keuchel.

While the Phils have monitored the markets for starters Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, all potential trade additions, the team’s current strategy involving relievers may be to see what it has in-house coming back from injury.

Tommy Hunter, who has not pitched all season due to a flexor strain, threw another bullpen session on Saturday. He is getting close.

“Tommy threw a bullpen, a really good one,” Kapler said. “He’s feeling really good about himself, which is encouraging for us. It’s going to be difficult to slow him down because of how excited he is and healthy he looks, how the ball is coming out, and, quite frankly, we have a need for Tommy Hunter, so when he’s ready, we’ll be ready for him.”

David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan are all due back in the coming weeks.

Even with these potential in-house additions, the Phils are still likely to seek outside bullpen help, maybe not with the signing of Kimbrel, but possibly via a trade for someone like Toronto’s Ken Giles or the White Sox’s Alex Colome.

Stay tuned. We’re into June now. The Phillies are a first-place club, but far from a perfect club. They have holes they want to fill and could begin doing so soon.

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Sign Craig Kimbrel? Phillies GM Matt Klentak seems confident in what he already has

Sign Craig Kimbrel? Phillies GM Matt Klentak seems confident in what he already has

Matt Klentak spent the winter making high-profile additions to the Phillies’ roster.

It does not sound as if he’s planning another one any time soon — specifically in the bullpen. Despite its role in a couple of difficult, late losses to the Washington Nationals in the first two weeks of the season, Klentak remains confident in the unit.

“I feel really good about the construction of our bullpen,” the Phillies general manager said before Wednesday night’s series finale against Washington.

“And I’m not blind. I know some of our key guys have had some tough outings so far in the first 10 days. I’ve watched it. I know it. But I like the depth that we have. I’m encouraged by Seranthony Dominguez’ and David Robertson’s last two outings. Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan look like the best versions of themselves this year.

“I trust in the track record of our group. In the best of times, they’re not going to be perfect every night and certainly when you’re facing lineups like the Nationals have. There are good hitters over there. Sometimes they’re going to get our guys, and sometimes our guys will get them.”

On Tuesday night, manager Gabe Kapler rested three key relievers because they’d so far carried a significant load and he’s committed to keeping them healthy all season. Pressed into late, high-leverage duty, Edubray Ramos allowed a two-out homer to Victor Robles in failing to protect a one-run lead in the ninth and Jose Alvarez gave up a three-run homer in the 10th.

In the wake of that 10-6 loss, a clamor arose for the Phillies to sign free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel.

The Phillies have monitored the market for Kimbrel for months, but, at the moment, do not appear ready to strike.

Klentak would not talk specifically about Kimbrel nor would he say if he has had recent conversations with David Meter, the pitcher’s agent.

Klentak said he would not take a “football fan mentality” and over-scrutinize one bad game, especially with the way things have gone so far this season.

“We’re 7-3 with the best winning percentage in the National league and we’ve not been clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “So the optimistic view of that is, there may still be better days ahead and that’s saying something when you’re 7-3.”

He went on to praise the fans who have backed the Phillies out of the gate.

“Our fans have been incredible,” he said. “It’s really cool to come to the ballpark and play in front of these crowds in that environment. We’ve had a lot of our stars doing star-level things. It’s been very entertaining.”

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