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February 14, 2017

Mackanin: Jeanmar Gomez is the Phillies closer as camp opens

CLEARWATER, Fla. –– So much for a repeat of last spring, with Ken Giles long gone and nearly a half dozen pitchers still competing for the open closer’s job as spring training drew to a close in March.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin declared Jeanmar Gomez his closer on Tuesday, following the team’s first official spring training workout in Clearwater, Fla. The 29-year-old Gomez was an unlikely candidate a year ago, but emerged as a steady force in the ninth inning role in April, after a few others failed to win the job.

“When you look at Jeanmar Gomez’s year last year, although he had a poor month of September, he saved 37 games and I think blew only (six) saves,” Mackanin said. “Premier [guys] have those kind of numbers. You don’t see very often a guy like (Brad) Lidge save (48-for-48 in 2008). He had a hiccup but at the same time I believe that he deserves to be called the closer at this point.”

Gomez converted 37 of 43 save opportunities last season. But for as consistent as Gomez was in the season’s first 4 1/2 months, he was downright dreadful in the last six weeks.

Gomez went 0-3 with a 13.20 ERA in his final 19 appearances. Opponents slashed .403/.469/.611 against him in that span. Of the 81 batters Gomez faced during that stretch (beginning Aug. 14), 37 reached safely on a hit or a walk.

But just as general manager Matt Klentak defended Gomez's work in 2016 two months ago at the Winter Meetings, Mackanin isn’t letting the last six weeks overshadow the first four months.

“I assume he’s read some of the things I said,” said Mackanin, who earlier this winter mentioned the competition the team could have for the closer’s role, with Hector Neris emerging last winter and veterans like Joaquin Benoit joining the team this offseason.

“I remember back in 2009 my first year as a coach here, I think Lidge blew a bunch of saves and (manager) Charlie (Manuel) stuck with him,” Mackanin continued. “And it proved to be important that he did even though a lot of people were clamoring for a change in that spot. But Charlie showed him confidence and stayed with him and I think that was the right thing to do.”

It’s worth pointing out that Mackanin is declaring his closer on Feb. 14 – more than seven weeks before the Phillies will play a game when they actually need a closer.

The team still has to stay healthy over the course of spring training. Pitchers still need to perform in Grapefruit League games.

“There’s always competition,” Mackanin said. “You have to keep proving yourself to stay at the major league level and nobody is guaranteed a job anywhere, but at this point in time as I said. We’ll see, there are health concerns with everybody, you know how (it goes) we had some issues with some of our pitchers last spring, which is normal. I mean (Aaron) Altherr hurt his wrist and it took him out of the picture most of the year. That being said, I want to show Jeanmar the confidence that he deserves after the year he had, even though he had a hiccup at the end.”

Mackanin also said he feels better in general with the back of his bullpen (compared with last year) because of Neris, the impressive rookie campaign of Edubray Ramos last season, and the additions of Benoit and fellow veteran Pat Neshek over the winter.

“We certainly have some guys to go to with Neris and Benoit and Edubray, guys who have shown closer stuff,” Mackanin said. “I feel good about that, but right now Jeanmar is our closer.”

Gomez may have saved a lot of games in the season’s first four months, but he doesn’t have the prototypical closer stuff and his peripheral numbers were at least concerning. Gomez’s sported a 1.456 WHIP on the season and a 6.16 strikeout rate that ranked 83rd of 86 NL relievers with at least 40 innings.

 • While position players aren’t due in camp until Thursday, everyone except infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez has already checked into camp. The first full-squad workout in Clearwater will be held on Friday.

 • Right-hander Jake Thompson begins camp a little behind the rest of the large crop of starters in camp after suffering a minor wrist injury this winter. Right-hander Victor Arano is also ailing, according to Pete Mackanin, and infield prospect Jesmuel Valentin jammed his shoulder in Winter Ball. But none of the injuries “are of any great importance,” Mackanin said.

 • Mackanin did not deliver the customary speech that managers generally give at the start of spring. That takes place on Friday, before the first official full-squad workout. He previewed his message on Tuesday afternoon to the media. 

 “You have to earn your right to stay at the big league level,” Mackanin said. “It’s easier to get the big leagues than it is to stay in the big leagues and I just want them to play with energy, play hard, compete on a pitch-by-pitch basis and play a full nine innings. That’s basically it.”

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