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September 23, 2016

Mackanin mulls closer options as Gomez gets a break from ninth inning

NEW YORK – Jeanmar Gomez is still the Phillies closer, manager Pete Mackanin said prior to Friday’s game at Citi Field, but the veteran reliever will be given a break from his ninth inning duties.

Gomez collected his sixth blown save of the season a night earlier, when he served up a two-run home run to Jose Reyes in the ninth inning of an eventual 9-8 loss in 11 innings to the New York Mets. Gomez has allowed eight runs in his last four appearances over a 10-day period (43.20) with two home runs.

During that period, he has two blown saves and another game when he entered with a four-run lead and allowed three runs before being bailed out my Michael Mariot as the Phillies narrowly escaped with a one-run win against the White Sox.

“I had a chat with Jeanmar and I told him that he’s our closer,” Mackanin said Friday afternoon inside the visiting manager’s office at Citi Field. “But the way I look at it, he’s in a slump like a hitters (get in them). So I told him for the next couple of chances to close, I’m going to try somebody else just to give him another break.

“I told him, ‘You’re still the closer, stay positive, good chance you’ll have another opportunity to close a game. But the next couple I’m going to give you a little breather.’ So he’s aware of it.”

And who is next in line during a season that began with David Hernandez and the long-forgotten Dalier Hinojosa as favorites as closer until Gomez emerged as a steady if not un-hittable ninth inning option? Take your best guess.

“Whoever is available,” said Mackanin, who had to use eight relievers on Thursday night.

Hector Neris (11.52 strikeout rate, 10th best among NL relievers) is an obvious option. Mackanin also mentioned Mariot, Hernandez, and hard-throwing right-handers Edubray Ramos (who allowed the game-winning home run in the 11th on Thursday) and Luis Garcia.

Or perhaps his new favorite left-hander, who wasn’t even on the roster two weeks ago.

“(Joely) Rodriguez, this would be his third day in a row, but they’ve got 4 lefties bunched up,” Mackanin said of the Mets lineup. “So it might be (Rodriguez) for a save situation the ninth with those four lefties, it might be him.”

Rodriguez hasn’t allowed a run and just one hit in seven games (5 1/3 innings) while featuring a fastball that’s averaged nearly 96 MPH while topping out at 98-MPH. He retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, following Franco’s go-ahead home run.

Mackanin said he already had a short leash for Gomez entering the ninth inning of Thursday’s game, when the Phillies held a 6-4 lead thanks to Maikel Franco’s 8th inning, go-ahead home run. Gomez began the ninth by giving up a hit to rookie Brandon Nimmo before striking out Jay Bruce.

Mackanin was ready to pull Gomez if the next hitter, Reyes, reached base.

“I was giving Gomez every opportunity,” Mackanin said. “But if Reyes got a hit I was bringing in Neris. And he hits a (bleeping) home run.”

Mackanin said he didn’t get to sleep until after 3 a.m. But it wasn’t because he was wrestling with the game in his head.

The game was, however, the first thing he thought about when he woke up a little more than four hours later.

“I don’t ever remember ever coming from behind twice with two-run leads and not winning the game,” said Mackanin, whose team had retaken the lead in the top of the 11th, too. “That was tough.”

And sure enough, Mackanin was onto something: according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Thursday night marked the first time in major league history that a team won a game in which it twice erased a deficit of two or more runs with multi-run home runs in the ninth inning or later.

The Phillies ‘pen is 1-7 with a 6.13 ERA this month. The first three weeks of September has been reminiscent of the first week of the 2016 schedule, when the bullpen blew up three times in the season's first five games.

But, overall, Mackanin feels better about his relief corps now than he did when the team returned home from that season-opening road trip.

“Neris has emerged,” Mackanin said. “Ramos is making a good statement for himself, he’s got stuff. And even Mariot has got stuff. In that respect, I think those three guys, and Gomez is in the picture in whatever role. That’s four guys that are usable. I’d like to add some depth to that. And then obviously Joely Rodriguez has been a nice looking (guys). He’s got some nasty (stuff). And if he throws strikes with that, which he’s been able to do for the most part, that bodes well I think for next year.”

Gomez, who has saved 37 games this season, has an 11.20 ERA (17 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings) in 17 appearances since August 14. Opponents are hitting .391 against him with a 1.021 OPS during that six-week stretch.

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