Pete Mackanin sounds ready to remove Jeanmar Gomez from closer's role

Pete Mackanin sounds ready to remove Jeanmar Gomez from closer's role

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Ninth innings like Sunday can happen when your fifth-best reliever is your closer.

Four Phillies pitchers -- Jeremy Hellickson, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and Hector Neris -- had completely silenced the Nationals' potent offense Sunday afternoon through eight innings. 

The Phils were on their way to a 3-0 win when Jeanmar Gomez put two men on the in the ninth and allowed a massive three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman.

It was the second homer Gomez has allowed already this season in three appearances. In two of those appearances, he entered with a three-run lead. One became a one-run save. The other was a blown save Sunday in a game the Phils came back to win, 4-3, on Cesar Hernandez's walk-off single (see Instant Replay).

So, of course, the first question manager Pete Mackanin was asked after the game was about the closer's role.

"I'm going to have a talk with him tomorrow," Mackanin said of Gomez. "I'll have something for you tomorrow. I need to talk with him."

Mackanin deflected a few more questions by saying news would come Monday after he's able to have a conversation with Gomez, but it's pretty clear just by his saying this that a change is coming. The Phillies simply can't afford to be using Gomez in the ninth inning when Neris, Benoit, and even Neshek and Edubray Ramos have better stuff.

Yes, Gomez saved 37 games last season. But it wasn't a dominant 37-save season. Most spent the season wondering when his decline would begin, and in September Gomez completely fell apart, his ERA soaring from 2.97 to 4.85. Mackanin had hoped Gomez's command would be closer to what it was last April through August but it hasn't been. He wanted to begin the season with Gomez closing because he felt he couldn't go back to Gomez if someone else failed early in the season.

But a week into the season, that change could already be on the way.

"We just have to do what we have to do," Mackanin said. "Like I said, I'm going to talk to Jeanmar tomorrow. I didn't talk to him today. I'll have something for you tomorrow. We'll discuss it. It's not something you want to think about. We just have to be practical and do what is best for the team and we'll know tomorrow."

Neris would seem to be the obvious choice because he's a closer-in-waiting with an elite strikeout pitch (his splitter), a mid-90s fastball and a whole lot of confidence.

The problem is, if Neris becomes the closer, then the Phillies won't have that weapon in high-leverage situations in the seventh or eighth innings. Look at Sunday, for example. Neris came in for Neshek with two men on base and two outs in the seventh and got out of the jam, then picked up two huge strikeouts of Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper in the eighth. A lot of times the highest-leverage situations come before the ninth inning. 

That's where Benoit comes in. Benoit has 51 career saves in 16 seasons. He saved 24 games with a 2.01 ERA for the 2013 Tigers and saved 11 with a 2.34 ERA for the 2014 Padres. He's 39 years old but he's been an elite reliever for eight seasons now, posting a 2.39 ERA over his last 442 appearances. And he's still throwing in the mid-90s.

Neris' value as a setup man has to weigh on Mackanin's decision. Plus, using Benoit as a closer would increase his trade value ahead of the deadline.

When asked if Neris' dominance as a setup man will impact the decision, Mackanin again sidestepped. He doesn't want to give reporters the decision before he gives it to Gomez.

Gomez felt he was squeezed by the home-plate umpire Sunday, particularly on Jayson Werth's at-bat in which two pitches just off the outside corner were called balls. Werth walked, setting up Zimmerman's homer. 

Gomez has been used in all sorts of roles throughout his career -- last season was his first as a closer -- so he's not exactly fretting over the likely change.

"You can control what you can control," he said. "You don't have control of [the manager's decision]. You have to get ready for the next situation. When you come to the ballpark, you get ready for the role that you have. You (don't) know the future."

You don't know the future, but you can assume what news is coming Monday.

 

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

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LOS ANGELES — The Phillies suffered a gut-wrenching 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.

The Phillies took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning but the Dodgers tied the game on three straight, no-out solo homers against Hector Neris.

The Dodgers got two more hits in the inning before Adrian Gonzalez won it with a two-out RBI infield hit against Joely Rodriguez.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin stacked his lineup with lefty hitters and it paid off as Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Andrew Knapp accounted for five RBIs. But they all went by the wayside in one quick, disastrous inning.

The Phils have lost two in a row.

And this one was bad.

Starting pitching report
Zach Eflin held the Dodgers to four hits and two runs over seven walk-free innings. Both of the runs came on solo homers, one in the first inning and one in the seventh. Otherwise, Eflin retired 11 hitters by groundout and four by strikeout.

Eflin has given up just four earned runs in 19 innings over three starts this season. He has walked just three.

Brandon McCarthy gave up a season-high four runs on eight hits and a walk.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit struck out Yasmani Grandal, the potential tying run, with two men on base to end the eighth inning.

Neris blew the save and took the loss.

At the plate
Stassi's second homer of the season, a three-run shot to left-center off McCarthy in the fourth, gave the Phils a 3-1 lead. He started at first in place of slumping Tommy Joseph.

Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp. He responded with a single, double and home run. The homer was his first in the majors.

Andrew Toles led off the bottom of the first with a solo homer for the Dodgers. Rookie Cody Bellinger added a homer in the seventh.

Yasiel Puig, Bellinger and Justin Turner hit consecutive solo homers with no outs in the ninth to tie the game.

In the field
Odubel Herrera made a long run and a terrific lunging catch to take away extra bases from Puig in the fourth.

Chase Utley made an error at second base for the Dodgers.

Health check
Aaron Nola's back is still an issue. Howie Kendrick remains on the DL with an oblique injury, but he could be an option at first base when he returns if Joseph's bat continues to slumber (see story).

Up next
The three-game series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Nick Pivetta will make his major-league debut for the Phillies. He will face Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (0-4, 4.64).

The Phillies acquired Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington in July 2015. He was 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 24 strikeouts and just two walks in three starts at Triple A before being called up.

Reliever Luis Garcia was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after Saturday night's game to make room for Pivetta.

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Nola is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday, but that's not going to happen.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Saturday indicated that the pitcher's recovery from a lower back strain was not going as smoothly as hoped.

Did Nola experience a setback?

"If you want to call it that," Mackanin said.

Nola threw a bullpen session on Friday and, according to Mackanin, did not bounce back as well as hoped.

"After he completed it, he had some symptoms, some soreness or tightness, I guess," Mackanin said. "It was decided he will not make his start on Monday. He will be reevaluated to determine his next bullpen.

"A couple of days ago he said he felt great and then [Friday] not so great. He's improving but he's not 100 percent. There's something bugging him. We're just going to take it day to day. We're being cautious with him this early in the season."

Nola experienced soreness in his lower back after his last start, April 20 against the Mets. The Phils have been filling the opening on their pitching staff with reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Nick Pivetta will be activated on Sunday and make his major-league debut with a start against the Dodgers.

Kendrick works at first base
First baseman Tommy Joseph and catcher Cameron Rupp, both hitting under .200, were not in the starting lineup on Saturday night as Mackanin went heavy on lefty hitters against Dodgers' righty Brandon McCarthy.

Mackanin stressed that he doesn't like to make judgments on hitters until they get around the 100 at-bat mark — Joseph has 63; Rupp 50 — but it's worth noting that first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher Jorge Alfaro are both off to hot starts at Triple A and could be eventual replacements if the club looks for more production.

There also could be another option brewing at first base.

Howie Kendrick has worked at first base during batting practice the last two days. On Friday, he merely tracked balls off the bat and worked on first-step breaks. He did so with a regular fielder's glove.

But on Saturday, Kendrick brought his first baseman's mitt to the field. He took some groundballs and throws from across the diamond.

This stuff doesn't happen just by accident.

Over an 11-season career, Kendrick has played in 89 games at first base. He opened the season as the Phillies' leftfielder and hit .333 (13 for 39) with an .883 OPS before suffering an oblique injury two weeks ago in Washington. Kendrick probably needs at least another week of recovery time before coming off the disabled list, but it's now reasonable to wonder if he will go back to left field or get time at first base when he returns. Using Kendrick at first would allow the Phillies to keep Aaron Altherr's bat in the lineup in left field.

Joseph can have a say in all this if he gets his bat going. He is hitting .190 (12 for 63) with just a .505 OPS.

Last May, it was Joseph who earned his way to the majors after his hot start in Triple A coincided with Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf struggling in the majors. Joseph got 347 plate appearances in the majors last season and hit .257 with 21 homers, 47 RBIs and a .813 OPS.