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.

Today's lineup: Tommy Joseph returns to lineup for Game 1

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Today's lineup: Tommy Joseph returns to lineup for Game 1

The Phillies' return from the West Coast will also include the return of Tommy Joseph to the lineup in Game 1 of their doubleheader against the Marlins.

Joseph, mired in a 5 for 56 slump, will be in the lineup after sitting the last two games against the Giants. For some strange reason, the right-handed Joseph has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching. He's hitting just .185 against southpaws this season vs. .254 against righties. Joseph will play first and bat fifth.

What will excite Phillies fans tonight is the three and four hitters. Rookies Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins will bat in the three-hole and cleanup spot, respectively. Williams has struggled a little bit since his torrid start. He has just one extra-base hit in his last 42 at-bats. He'll start in center field while Odubel Herrera continues to nurse a hamstring injury.

Hoskins returns from his native California red hot. After getting just one hit in his first big league series against the Mets, Hoskins did some serious damage out west. The 24-year-old went 8 for 25 (.320) with five homers and eight RBIs during the seven-game swing. He'll get the nod yet again left.

Newcomer Hyun Soo Kim will fill out the outfield, playing right and batting sixth. Kim is just 5 for 33 since coming over from Baltimore in the Jeremy Hellickson trade.

Here is the rest of the lineup for Game 1:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Hyun Soo Kim, RF
7. Maikel Franco, 3B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Aaron Nola, P

And here's how the Marlins will line up against Nola:
1. Dee Gordon, 2B
2. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
3. Christian Yelich, CF
4. Marcell Ozuna, LF
5. J.T. Realmuto, C
6. Derek Dietrich, 3B
7. Tomas Telis, 1B
8. Miguel Rojas, SS
9. Dan Straily, P

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

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Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

The Phillies have made a flurry of moves ahead of Tuesday's doubleheader vs. the Marlins.

Vince Velasquez (finger) is heading to the 60-day disabled list, effectively ending his season. He'll have surgery to repair a vascular issue with his right middle finger, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.

Velasquez left his last start after just one inning on August 10 while surrendering three runs.

In 15 starts, Velasquez compiled a 5.13 ERA, while continuing to struggle with his command. The 25-year-old struck out 68 batters while walking 34 and averaged just 4.8 innings per start. 

In a corresponding move, the Phillies have called up RHP Yacksel Rios from Triple A to replace Velasquez on the 40-man roster. The 24-year-old has a combined 1.92 ERA in 37 games while splitting time between Reading and Lehigh Valley. 

Nick Pivetta was officially recalled from the minors to start Game 2 of today's doubleheader, while Zach Eflin (shoulder) was placed on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to Saturday.