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.

 

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tim Tebow is moving up and heading south -- to some very familiar territory.

Tebow has been promoted to the New York Mets' high Class A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. The 29-year-old Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships in football and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy during his stellar career with the Gators.

"I'm not sure how much of an additional challenge it will be," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Sunday in San Francisco. "Clearly it's a step up. I certainly think he can handle it."

Tebow began his first pro baseball season with Class A Columbia, drawing huge crowds at home and wherever the Fireflies went in the South Atlantic League. He entered his final Fireflies game batting .222 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

"I wouldn't say he has excelled there, but at the same time, what he's done there -- given all the circumstances -- justified the promotion to Port St. Lucie," Alderson said.

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

PHOENIX -- Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick both tested their achy body parts on Sunday.

Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper back strain, threw two 15-pitch "innings" in the bullpen and was pleased with the results.

"It felt good, no sense of pulling," he said. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Eickhoff's turn in the rotation will come up Wednesday in Seattle. If he can't make the start, Mark Leiter Jr. will. Leiter pitched six shutout innings in his first big-league start on Friday night.

As for Kendrick, who is battling left hamstring tightness, he was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game on Sunday. He did run some sprints under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan before the game.

"He still feels it, but he's available to pinch-hit," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Is this getting close to being a situation that would require a trip to the disabled list?

"Hopefully not," Mackanin said. "Hopefully he's better tomorrow. If not, I'm hoping he can at least DH in Seattle (on Tuesday). He's one of our best hitters and I want to get him in there. But I've got to be cautious."

Kendrick already spent six weeks on the disabled list with an abdominal injury earlier this season. He's played well when healthy, hitting .355 (43 for 121) with a .414 on-base percentage in 31 games.

The Phillies need to be certain that Kendrick is healthy when they turn him loose because he could hold some trade value in the month of July and a full-blown injury would hurt that.