Mackanin, Benoit clear the air about bullpen roles; Klentak mentions Andrew Miller

Mackanin, Benoit clear the air about bullpen roles; Klentak mentions Andrew Miller

About 15 minutes before Pete Mackanin sat down in the Phillies' media room Thursday to discuss his contract extension, he spoke with reliever Joaquin Benoit about the comments Benoit made Wednesday.

Benoit, without naming them, had questioned Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure to reporters about the lack of defined roles in the Phils' bullpen. The criticism came after Benoit allowed five runs while recording one out in the Phillies' 11-6 loss to the Mariners.

"Right now I believe that it would be better if everybody knows what the role is and when you're going to contribute," Benoit said Wednesday.

"One day I'm in the seventh (inning), then I was the sixth, then the ninth, then the eighth. Right now I'm all over the place. It's a little bit consistency. Not just the pitching staff but the people that run it, too."

Mackanin says he didn't take issue with Benoit's stance.

"I told him, I said, 'Look it, when a team's going through a losing streak I don't expect everybody to be happy,'" Mackanin said. "In fact, I expect everybody to be frustrated — from the players to the coaches to myself, nobody's happy. So I don't have an issue with that. I spoke to him and it's done with, it's all over."

The idea of relievers, especially veteran relievers like the 39-year-old Benoit, seeking clearly established roles is not new. You'll hear relievers gripe about it any closer-by-committee situation when the bullpen struggles. For some guys it's absolutely necessary; for others it's just a convenient excuse for poor performance.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak, who constructed this bullpen with versatility in mind, agrees that in a perfect world, firm roles would already be established. But 2017 hasn't gone as seamlessly for the 'pen as 2016 did.

"In some respects, when I hear Joaquin talking about the need for roles, we agree with that," Klentak said. "In a perfect world, in a perfect scenario, we would. Last year it took us a week and those roles became established. Not the way necessarily we had drawn them up in spring training, but the way that they evolved. By the middle of April, we were good. We had Jeanmar (Gomez) pitching the ninth, Hector (Neris) in the eighth and (Edubray) Ramos in the seventh. We were competitive in all the one-run games. This year it's taken a little bit longer."

Does Klentak buy that his relievers need to know specifically which inning they'll be used and that when they don't, it's a reason for inconsistency?

He brought up Indians southpaw Andrew Miller in his response.

"A lot of guys can (pitch in multiple roles)," Klentak said. "There's a pretty high-profile left-hander in last year's playoffs for the American League champion that was pitching any inning he was asked and pitching multiple innings, came in with traffic. 

"Some guys can, some guys can't. Players are different. Some can do it, some prefer the certainty of their role. We'll figure it out, the players will figure it out, the staff will figure out. We'll be fine."

So far the Phillies' bullpen has been anything but fine, allowing a major-league high 22 home runs with a major-league worst eight blown saves.

Joaquin Benoit dissatisfied with 'the people that run' Phillies' bullpen

Joaquin Benoit dissatisfied with 'the people that run' Phillies' bullpen

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Pete Mackanin again expressed confidence in the Phillies' beleaguered bullpen after it allowed eight more runs in three innings Wednesday.

However, the losing pitcher, Joaquin Benoit is unhappy with how the Phils have handled their relievers.

Benoit, who allowed five runs and six baserunners while recording just one out Wednesday, said after the game that the lack of defined roles in the Phillies' bullpen is partially to blame for the unit's struggles.

"I think it's not just about us. I believe that if we have a set role, everybody will fall in place. Right now I think everybody is a different piece," Benoit said after the Phillies lost for the 10th time in 12 games, 11-6 (see Instant Replay).

"Right now I believe that it would be better if everybody knows what the role is and when you're going to contribute.

"One day I'm in the seventh, then I was the sixth, then the ninth, then the eighth. Right now I'm all over the place. It's a little bit consistency. Not just the pitching staff but the people that run it, too."

Benoit entered in the seventh inning Wednesday with the middle of the Mariners' order due up. The Phillies were without left-hander Joely Rodriguez, who was unavailable after throwing 39 pitches in 1 2/3 innings Tuesday night.

The Phillies have used the veteran setup man in a variety of roles already this season. Benoit began as a setup man, then moved into the closer's role, then moved back into a setup role, pitching the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings along the way.

"The people running" the pitching staff that Benoit alluded to are Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure. Managing the bullpen has been Mackanin's biggest challenge this season and it's obviously accentuated by the bullpen's constant struggles. The Phillies' bullpen ERA soared Wednesday from 4.12 to 4.66, from 14th in the majors to 24th.

Benoit wasn't passing the buck, just noting that the lack of a comfortable routine is affecting the Phillies' relievers. This isn't some new theory — you hear it often when a bullpen struggles and uses the closer-by-committee approach.

Benoit entered this season with a 2.40 ERA the previous seven years so he's had a ton of experience and success. When Jeanmar Gomez faltered in the ninth inning in early April and Mackanin removed him from the role, the next man up was Benoit. But after just one bad outing in which Benoit allowed a walk-off home run to Bryce Harper, Mackanin yanked Benoit out of the ninth inning in favor of Hector Neris.

Then when Neris had his disastrous outing at Dodger Stadium, the Phils were set to go with Pat Neshek for a few days.

"If I'm going to be set in one place, I don't mind [which inning I pitch]," Benoit said. "If that's definitely the place I'm going to be, I don't mind doing that every day. It's consistency in one spot."

The constant struggles of the Phillies' bullpen so far this season have been a bit surprising. When you looked at this unit to start the season, there was a lot to like. Neris coming off a dominant season. An experienced arm in Benoit who had a 2.40 ERA since 2010. A funky right-hander in Neshek whose deceptiveness nullifies powerful right-handed hitters. An emerging Edubray Ramos.

But this happens sometimes with bullpens. The Tampa Bay Rays, for example, put together almost an entire new bullpen every year. Some years they're great. Some years they're not.

"I still think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said Wednesday. "The fact that I have been using relief pitchers in situations where I didn't want to and then they become unavailable because they pitched two days in a row, that all adds into the equation. If you get your [starting] pitchers throwing six and seven innings, then it becomes a lot easier. Once we get the starters in gear, it's all going to fall into place.

"Unfortunately all these things are piling up to where I can't use them the way I'd like to use them right now. They've been asked to fill in certain roles that they're not used to."

When asked if it makes it tougher on the manager and pitching coach to assign concrete roles when the bullpen isn't performing, Benoit smiled and repeated his stance.

"It works if you find a place for everybody," he said. "It works."

Anything would seem to work better than the method Mackanin and McClure have used through the season's first six weeks.

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris to pitch 9th; Howie Kendrick likely out longer than expected

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris to pitch 9th; Howie Kendrick likely out longer than expected

Pete Mackanin won't officially name Hector Neris the closer, but if the Phillies have a lead in the ninth inning Friday against the Braves he plans to turn to Neris for the save for the second straight night.

Neris pitched a 1-2-3 inning Thursday at Citi Field for his first save of the season. Joaquin Benoit, who Mackanin dubbed the closer "for now" after removing Jeanmar Gomez from the role less than two weeks ago, will pitch in a setup role. Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning Thursday, retiring Jay Bruce, Neil Walker and Jose Reyes.

Benoit has extensive experience as a setup man and has a 2.42 ERA since 2010. When Mackanin gave Benoit the first crack at closing after Gomez faltered, part of the reasoning was that Neris was just so valuable as a setup man capable of getting more than three outs. A lot of times, the eighth inning provides as many or more high-leverage situations as the ninth.

But Neris pitched well and locked down the win Thursday, so he'll get the next opportunity. Mackanin said Thursday that he likes having the luxury of interchanging Neris and Benoit or using Benoit in the ninth when Neris is unavailable.

"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said after Thursday's win. "Over in Washington (when Benoit allowed a walk-off three-run homer to Bryce Harper), I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with."

Neris has emerged the last two seasons as an elite reliever. In 87 appearances, he has a 2.33 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 111 strikeouts and 31 walks in 88 2/3 innings. He hasn't allowed a run in 69 of those 87 appearances.

Kendrick injury update
Howie Kendrick, on the 10-day DL retroactive to April 16, likely will not return when he's first eligible April 26 and it looks like he'll be out a bit longer than expected. Kendrick said he did not think the injury was to his oblique, but it turns out that's exactly what it is.

Mackanin gave an estimated timetable of about two weeks from when Kendrick first went on the DL but noted the tricky nature of oblique injuries. The constant twisting of swinging a bat can cause setbacks or slow recovery time -- see Asche, Cody last spring. Recovery timetables for oblique injuries tend to last about a month.

Kendrick's absence continues to provide an opportunity for 23-year-old outfielder Aaron Altherr, who is 7 for 21 (.333) this season with two doubles and a homer.