CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the third time in recent weeks, Pete Mackanin on Tuesday said he expected Jeanmar Gomez to be his closer when the Phillies open their season in April.
“He had a hiccup,” said Mackanin, referring to the struggles that caused Gomez to lose his hold on the job in September. “But, at the same time, I believe he deserves to be called our closer at this point.”
At this point — a skipper’s way of leaving himself some wiggle room.
For the record, Gomez, who had 37 saves before his September to forget, does not have a preferred role.
“I don’t think about it,” he said after the first official workout of the spring for pitchers and catchers on Tuesday. “Whatever role I have I just want to do well.”
So it doesn’t matter if he’s the seventh-inning guy, or the eighth-inning guy, or the ninth-inning guy?
“No,” he said.
He’d be happy however it plays out?
“Contento,” the soft-spoken Venezuelan said with a smile.
If Gomez has a hiccup and Mackanin decides to employ the at this time qualifier and go in another direction at closer, the Phillies have other candidates to handle the ninth inning. Hector Neris can do the job. So can newcomer Joaquin Benoit.
Gomez, 29, entered last season as a setup man. He was elevated to the closer role out of desperation, after others had failed early in the season. Gomez doesn’t have prototypical closer’s stuff — his sinker is his go-to pitch — but he got the job done for just over five months, converting 37 of 43 saves chances.
Gomez was taken out of the closer’s role over the final few weeks of the season. He gave up 17 earned runs in September and opponents hit .467. Over the first five months, he gave up just 20 earned runs in 58 games and opponents hit .253.
“September was tough,” Gomez admitted. “I had the same velocity but my ball was not moving. It got flat. It was a learning experience.”
He hopes to build on that learning experience in 2017 — in whatever role he has.