Closer Jeanmar Gomez's leash shorter after tightrope act on opening day

Closer Jeanmar Gomez's leash shorter after tightrope act on opening day

CINCINNATI -- The taste of the Philllies' opening day win over the Cincinnati Reds was not as sweet as it could have been for manager Pete Mackanin.

Sure, he was thrilled to see Cesar Hernandez open the game with a home run and Freddy Galvis add a longball in the second inning and newcomers Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick come up with big hits and another newcomer, reliever Joaquin Benoit, put up a roadblock on the Reds' offense in the sixth inning.

But Mackanin was left with a bit of a sour aftertaste after closer Jeanmar Gomez had reprised the wobbly ways that cost him the job late last season.

"I'm concerned about it," Mackanin said, plainly.

The successful setup work of Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris had netted Gomez a three-run lead and a layup of a save in his first appearance of the season, but he came way too close to coughing up that lead for Mackanin's liking. Gomez gave up a leadoff single and a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth as the Reds made it a one-run game. Gomez finally got the last out and the Phillies won, 4-3, but it was a little too close for the manager, who has carried an uneasiness about his closer situation for months. That much became evident when Mackanin started qualifying his comments about the closer role, saying things like Gomez was his closer "for now," and "He's going to get every opportunity to do the job. If he doesn't, we're going to take a look at it."

Well, Mackanin is already taking a look at it.

Gomez's leash got a little shorter on opening day.

"I had two guys up in the 'pen in that ninth inning," Mackanin said. "(Gomez) is just not getting the ball down the way he did when he was successful. I want to make sure that he gets opportunities, but at the same time, I don't want to let games slip away."

Gomez won respect from the skipper when he plugged a problematic closer position and saved 37 games last season.

But this year, the Phils have legitimate options at closer. They signed Benoit, who was throwing 96 mph on Monday, in the offseason, and Ramos and Neris, both owners of closer stuff, have a year of valuable experience under their belts.

"It's very tricky," Mackanin said. "Like I said, [Gomez] has earned the right to have the opportunity to be the closer. But at the same time, just because a guy is a closer doesn't mean you can't take him out of the game when he's getting the ball up.

"He got the save. He did the job. But he's got to get the ball down. That pitch was up in the zone for an opposite-field home run. I don't want that to happen.

"As I said last year, and I'll always say it, you audition every day. Just because you're the cleanup hitter doesn't mean you're going to stay the cleanup hitter. Just because you're the closer doesn't mean you have to stay the closer. Like I said, a closer doesn't have to stay in the game, win or lose. It depends on what the manager feels is best for the team. So, you know, we'll go from there.

"I certainly have options. I don't want to make too big of a deal out of it, but I owe it to the team to do what I think is best for the team."

The Phillies are off on Tuesday.

If they have a save situation on Wednesday night, Gomez will likely be the guy that Mackanin calls upon. But one more walk on the tightrope could lead to an early change in the role. Stay tuned.

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola is a quiet, low-key Southern gentleman. Outward displays of emotion are not his thing.

But Nola made an exception Tuesday night.

After Maikel Franco made the play of the game to get Nola out of a jam in the seventh inning, the pitcher approached the third baseman in the dugout and …

"I gave him a hug," Nola said with a smile.

Franco's glove — and his bat — helped make a winner out of Nola and the Phillies as they rallied to beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-2, at Safeco Field (see Instant Replay).

"The game is about making pitches when they count, getting key hits and making good plays like that to help your pitcher out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We had a little bit of everything tonight. It was a lot of fun tonight."

Mackanin hasn't been able to say that a lot this season, particularly on the road where the Phillies have now won just 11 times in 42 games.

The Phillies came into this series in Seattle having lost three straight in Arizona and scoring just four runs in those losses. Then they were no-hit over the first four innings Tuesday night by Mariners lefty James Paxton.

The Mariners led, 2-0, thanks to a two-run homer by Jean Segura against Nola in the third. Franco led off the fifth with the Phillies' first hit, a double to right against Paxton, and that started a game-tying, two-run rally that featured two hits, a walk and two sacrifice flies.

The game turned for good in the seventh inning. Franco led off the frame with a solo home run — reliever Luis Garcia, one of Franco's best pals, caught the ball in his cap in the bullpen — to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.

Nola survived a couple of jams early in the game then faced another big one in the bottom of the seventh inning. He gave up a pair of one-out singles before striking out Mike Zunino for the second out in the seventh. The strikeout, Nola's ninth of the game, came on his 112th pitch, the most of his career, and Mackanin quickly popped out of the dugout and walked briskly to the mound. Segura, who had taken Nola deep in the third inning, was due up. Was Mackanin going to take Nola out?

No.

"I just wanted to let him know that this was his game," Mackanin said. "He pitched so well up to that point, I wanted him to know it was his game, finish it for us."

Nola thought there was a chance Mackanin was coming to take him out.

"But once he asked how I felt, I knew I wasn't out," Nola said. "I told him I felt good and thought I could finish the inning."

Nola threw one more pitch. Segura hit it hard down the third-base line, but Franco laid out, made a diving stab and threw across the diamond for the third out. If Franco doesn't make the play, the game is tied and Nola doesn't get a win.

That's why Franco got a hug.

"Segura put a pretty decent swing on that curveball and Mikey made a heck of a play," Nola said. "He also hit a big home run. It was a good team win."

Franco might have the bubbliest personality in the clubhouse, but he hasn't had many opportunities to show it. There's been a lot of losing this season and his play has been inconsistent.

But Franco was able to enjoy this one.

"I don't know how I made that play," he said with a laugh. "That's the little things that win ballgames. Bottom of the seventh, two outs. It was a big play and I'm glad for me and I'm glad for Nola. He did a good job."

And how about that hug?

"Oh, yeah," Franco said with a smile. "He said, 'Nice play, that's a sick play.'"

With two important extra-base hits and a game-saving defensive play, Franco once again showed how special he could be if he could add consistency to his game.

"I keep waiting for it and it's good to see little by little," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see him do it more often. He's capable of it. We've seen him do it in the past."

The Phillies got some good relief work from Joaquin Benoit then blew the game open in the eighth and ninth innings against the Seattle bullpen. Aaron Altherr hit a two-run homer and Freddy Galvis drove in a pair of runs with a pair of singles.

Galvis voiced his frustration with all the losing on Monday and urged his teammates to show more effort (see story). He backed up his words with three hits.

Timely hitting, clutch defense, good relief work and, of course, a second straight strong start from Nola.

We haven't been able to say it often this season, but this was a good win.

"When that starter gives you seven innings, it makes it a little easier," Mackanin said. "Nola made pitches when he had to. He really kept us in the game."

And Franco did the rest.

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola pitched well and Maikel Franco came up huge with his bat and his glove in leading the Phillies to an 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in an interleague game on Tuesday night.

Nola won his second straight start to improve to 5-5.

Franco gave Nola a 3-2 lead with a tiebreaking, leadoff homer in the top of the seventh then preserved the lead with a sensational diving play to end the bottom of the inning.

Freddy Galvis had three singles and drove in two important runs late in the game.

The win was just the Phillies' 11th in 42 games on the road this season. They are 25-51 overall.

Starting pitching report
Nola reached a career-high of 113 pitches over seven gutsy innings. He gave up five hits and two runs and got a bunch of big outs with men on base. He walked four and struck out nine.

Nola got out of jams with two men on base three times, including in the bottom of the seventh when he preserved a one-run lead by striking out Mike Zunino and getting Jean Segura on a groundball to third. Franco made a tremendous diving play on the ball to end the inning and prevent the tying run from scoring.

Nola has won two straight starts. He has pitched 14 1/3 innings over that span, allowed just three runs and racked up 17 strikeouts.

Lefty James Paxton did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. He allowed three runs in seven innings of work. He gave up Franco's go-ahead homer.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning to preserve a two-run lead.

The Seattle bullpen allowed five runs in two innings.

At the plate
Franco ignited a game-tying, two-run rally in the top of the fifth. He led off that inning with a double, the Phillies' first hit. Cameron Perkins followed with an infield hit and Cameron Rupp drew a walk. The Phillies then scored a pair of runs on consecutive sacrifice fly balls by Ty Kelly and Daniel Nava. Galvis followed with a single and third base coach Juan Samuel got a little too aggressive in sending Rupp from second base. Rupp was cut down at the plate.

Franco's go-ahead homer in the seventh was his 10th of the season. Galvis pushed home an insurance run in the eighth. He followed Nava's leadoff double with an RBI single. Galvis drove home another run with a hit in the top of the ninth and Aaron Altherr put it out of reach with a two-run homer, his 13th of the season.

Segura smacked a two-run homer in the third to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

In the field
Franco made a diving stab on Segura's smash down the third-base line to end the seventh inning and keep the Phils up by a run.

A night off
Odubel Herrera, he of several recent miscues and lapses in concentration, did not start Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin said it was a night off, not a benching. Herrera said he has to start playing smarter baseball (see story).

Health check
Jerad Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper-back strain, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. That will help determine if he's ready to return in the coming days.

Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Rookie right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) pitches against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (3-2, 4.68). Leiter pitched six scoreless innings in his first big-league start Friday in Arizona.