Fueled by faith, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez enjoys a blessed season

Fueled by faith, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez enjoys a blessed season

The Phillies registered their first series sweep of the second half with three wins over the weekend against the Colorado Rockies.
 
Jeanmar Gomez notched saves in two of the games, continuing his outstanding season as the team’s accidental closer.
 
They weren’t the kind of saves Ken Giles was firing up there a year ago, saves seemingly bathed in gasoline and dripping with swings-and-misses and strikeouts.
 
They were typical Jeanmar Gomez saves. The right-hander bobbed and weaved like a boxer on the ropes and relied on poise, smarts and finesse to close out the two games. Yeah, he came away a little bloodied — especially Sunday when he allowed two runs in a three-run game — but for closers the most important statistic is one that doesn’t appear in the box score: handshakes. Gomez has walked off the mound to handshakes 31 times this season.
 
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin reflected on Gomez's season after the pitcher registered his 30th save Saturday night.
 
“It’s very impressive in the respect that he was the last choice to be our closer,” Mackanin said. “We gave everybody an opportunity. He stayed with it and did a good job. He stays poised on the mound. He’s such a great guy and he’s been extremely valuable for us.
 
“Thirty saves. His son was born. It’s been a good year for him.”
 
On Sunday morning, Gomez sat in front of his locker in the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The 28-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela, had just emerged from a pregame workout. He wiped sweat from his brow and smiled.
 
Yes, it has been a good year.
 
Gomez and his wife Luisa became new parents on Aug. 4 when son Matthew was born at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.
 
Usually reporters ask the questions, but Sunday morning Gomez had a question for a reporter.
 
“Do you know what it means?” he said of his son’s first name.
 
“Matthew,” he continued. “It means gift of God.”
 
The blessing of a son has made what Gomez described as the best year of his career even better. He never expected to be the Phillies' closer this year. He reported to spring training in February believing he’d pitch in a setup role with someone else collecting the saves. But after others got a look in camp and David Hernandez and Dalier Hinojosa struggled way back in that season-opening series in Cincinnati in April, Gomez was next in line. He got the job done. Handshakes followed. He’s been on the job ever since.
 
In a year of blessings, Gomez sees his rise to the role of Phillies closer as another one.
 
“It’s a gift,” he said. “I never thought of closing. I was a starter until two years ago. I like it because you have to stay focused all the time because you can’t make a mistake. I don’t throw 99 (mph) so focus and control are everything.”
 
Despite a strikeout rate under 17 percent (the major-league average is 21 percent) and a swinging-strike percentage of just 6.8 percent (the major-league average is 10 percent), Gomez has blown just three saves. Oh, he can still get a strikeout when needed. Witness his work against National League home run leader Nolan Arenado in the ninth inning Saturday night. Gomez fanned the slugger with two men on base in a three-run game. But Gomez's strength remains his ability to locate his sinker, which has helped him produce a 53 percent ground ball rate.
 
“To me, he’s almost like a strikeout pitcher,” pitching coach Bob McClure said. “With a strikeout pitcher, you’re always thinking, ‘All right, he’ll get a strikeout here and be out of trouble.’ With Jeanmar, you’re thinking, ‘All right, he’ll get a ground ball, we’ll get a double play and be out of trouble.’ That’s how well he commands his sinker.”
 
Gomez gave up two runs in Sunday’s 7-6 win. But he might have given up none had second baseman Cesar Hernandez made a better feed to shortstop Freddy Galvis with one out in the ninth. Gomez got his ground ball. A better feed might have equaled a game-ending double play and no runs scored.
 
Gomez has another weapon as closer: his composure. The ninth inning can fray the nerves of even the most seasoned baseball man. Sometimes you wonder if Gomez even has a pulse.
 
“He’s very calm,” McClure said. “That helps.”
 
That calm, Gomez said, comes from his faith. He says a prayer before he steps on the mound.
 
“I ask God to take control,” he said. “That enables me to stay calm.”
 
Many closers have big, excitable, fiery personalities — we’ve seen them in Philadelphia with Mitch Williams, Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon — but Gomez is one of the quietest and most unassuming guys in the Phillies' clubhouse. If humility were a fastball, he’d hit triple digits on the radar gun.
 
Again, that goes back to his faith. He reads the Bible daily and from it draws the inspiration to be strong and courageous, just as it says in one of his favorite passages, Joshua 1:9.
 
“When you have Jesus in your heart you have to be humble,” he said. “When he came to Earth he wanted simplicity for us. That enables you to serve others.”
 
Gomez has served the Phillies so well this season that he has put himself in line for a nice payday this winter. He will be arbitration eligible for the second time. He is making $1.4 million this season. It’s reasonable to think that a 30-plus save season could be worth $4 million in 2017, but Gomez is not focused on riches.
 
“We depend on God, not the money,” he said.
 
Gomez was available for a trade in July, but there wasn’t a whole lot of interest. His pitch-to-contact, bob-and-weave style of closing still doesn’t appeal to a lot of teams who view him as more of a setup man. He could once again be available for a trade this winter with the Phillies looking to Hector Neris or Edubray Ramos as closer next season. But Gomez could also be back in his same role with the Phillies next season.
 
The humble pitcher is open to anything. He is here to serve.
 
“If I continue to get the opportunity to close, I’d like it,” he said. “But I’ve earned nothing. I’m happy with whatever opportunity I get.”
 
If Gomez's ascension to closer has been a surprise, then it’s consistent with his whole career. He did not intend on playing professional baseball. Education is very important to him and his family. His mother, Marbella, is a school administrator in Caracas and his wife is a law school graduate. After graduating from high school, Gomez planned to study Biology at the Central University of Venezuela and later attend medical school. In 2005, the Cleveland Indians offered him a minor-league contract and he decided to give it a try. After years of change, from teams to pitching roles, he ranks seventh in the majors in saves this season.
 
Even Gomez's post-baseball career plans have changed. He no longer aspires to attend medical school.
 
“I would like to try to be a pastor and teach everybody about God,” he said.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1

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Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola had everything working Thursday in his most impressive start of the season,  allowing just one run on four hits over 7⅓ innings with a season-high eight strikeouts.

Nola had remarkable, Greg Maddux-like movement and command of his two-seam fastball, especially with two strikes. He fooled the Cardinals all afternoon by starting it outside to hitters from both sides of the plate and having it run back over the outside corner for called third strikes. Of his season-high eight strikeouts, five were looking.

He also had his good, tight curveball working. When Nola pitches like this, he looks like a legitimate No. 2 starter or perhaps even more.

Leaning on Nola, the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1, to avoid a sweep. It was still a series loss, though, their 17th in 24 series this season.

The Phils are 23-48; the Cards are 33-38.

Starting pitching report
Nola consistently worked ahead and stayed ahead of Cardinals hitters, throwing 20 of 27 first-pitch strikes.

Nola improved to 4-5 on the season with a 4.32 ERA. It's been an up-and-down season for him but this was the kind of start that can really get a starting pitcher into a groove.

His most impressive sequences came against Cardinals leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who may be the most selective hitter in the majors after Joey Votto. In Carpenter's second at-bat, Nola froze him with a two-seam fastball that darted back over the plate at the last second. The next time up, Nola struck out Carpenter swinging on one of his best, sharpest curveballs of the day.

Nola was on his way to potentially the first complete game of his career before running into some trouble in the eighth inning. He allowed a leadoff homer to second baseman Paul DeJong and walked Carpenter with one out before being lifted for Pat Neshek.

Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez had just an OK afternoon by his standards. He allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings with four strikeouts. Both earned runs came on solo home runs. Martinez was also a victim of poor infield defense in the fifth inning when the Phils scored an unearned run.

Martinez is 6-6 with a 2.87 ERA. He entered Thursday with the fifth-highest strikeout rate among NL starting pitchers.

Bullpen report
Neshek has been money in the bank all season, even if there are frustrating restrictions with his usage. He entered for Nola in the eighth inning and needed just five pitches to induce an inning-ending double play from Tommy Pham. 

In 31 appearances, Neshek has a 0.63 ERA. He's one of only two pitchers in baseball this season to allow two runs or fewer in 20-plus innings. Neshek has allowed two in 28⅔ innings. Dominant Yankees setup man Dellin Betances has allowed two in 22⅔.

Luis Garcia got the final three outs in a non-save situation, but he was set to enter even before the Phillies tacked on their final two runs in the eighth.

Garcia on June 7 in Atlanta allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning in a 14-1 Phillies loss. Aside from that game, he has a 1.65 ERA in 24 appearances. He might be the Phils' closer for a little while with Hector Neris scuffling.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis (7) and Tommy Joseph (11) each hit solo home runs. 

Galvis' homer was his 21st of the last calendar year. The only National League shortstop with more over that span is MVP candidate Corey Seager (23).

Joseph added a two-run single for insurance with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. It was the kind of hit he needed — entering that at-bat, Joseph was hitting .204 in 122 chances this season with men on base.

In the field
Cardinals second baseman DeJong had a rough fourth inning. He dropped a throw from Martinez which could have started a double play but instead placed runners on first and second with no outs.

Three batters later, DeJong couldn't handle a flip from shortstop Aledmys Diaz which would have resulted in an inning-ending forceout. Instead, everyone was safe, and the dropped ball allowed a heads-up Andres Blanco to score all the way from second. The error on the play was charged to Diaz.

On the bases
Odubel Herrera committed a baserunning gaffe for the second straight game. He was picked off of third base with one out in the fourth inning, erasing an RBI opportunity for Daniel Nava.

This just 17 hours after Herrera ran through Juan Samuel's stop sign and was thrown out at the plate by about 30 feet in the ninth inning of a tie game.

Up next
The Phillies head out West for four games in Arizona followed by two in Seattle.

They will face left-handers Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, and then right-handers Zack Greinke and Taijuan Walker. 

The Phillies haven't yet named a starter for Friday's game.

Phillies promote outfielder Andrew Pullin to Triple A after strong run with Reading

Phillies promote outfielder Andrew Pullin to Triple A after strong run with Reading

Cameron Perkins' call-up to the majors opened up an outfield spot at Triple A Lehigh Valley and Andrew Pullin was the beneficiary, earning a promotion Thursday.

Pullin's success at Double A Reading has been somewhat overshadowed by Scott Kingery's eye-popping first three months but Pullin has nearly kept pace with the second baseman all season. In 67 games with Reading, the 23-year-old Pullin hit .308/.368/.556 with 22 doubles, 14 home runs and 46 RBIs.

The left-handed hitting Pullin has been locked in for the better part of the last two years. He hit .322 with an .885 OPS last season, splitting time between Clearwater and Reading.

Pullin is not on the 40-man roster and in December was exposed in the Rule 5 draft. For whatever reason, he went unclaimed. It's difficult to imagine that happening again this winter if he's not protected on the 40.

As for Kingery, expect his promotion to come soon. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said last week that the next challenge for Kingery is looming. Don't be surprised if that promotion from Double A to Triple A occurs Monday when the IronPigs return to Lehigh Valley. With Reading home this weekend, it would be just a short trip for Kingery.