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September 14, 2016

Mackanin will stick with struggling Jeanmar Gomez as Phillies closer

Despite his recent struggles, Jeanmar Gomez will likely finish out the season as the Phillies closer, manager Pete Mackanin said on Wednesday afternoon.

Mackanin said he “thought about” making a change to the back of his bullpen, which had been a strong suit for much of the first four months of the season. But apparently the negatives outweigh the positives for the first-year manager.

Mackanin was asked about the subject less than 24 hours after Gomez collected his fifth blown save of the season in a 5-3 loss to the Pirates. Gomez failed to retire any of the three hitters he faced, and all scored on a three-run home run from Sean Rodriguez.

“I thought about that and I don’t know if that’s such a good idea only because I don’t want to send a message to him that he’s had some rough outings,” Mackanin said of Gomez, who was one of the few potential All-Star candidates on the roster two months ago. “I don’t think I’m going to do it. I thought a lot about it but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

A middle reliever last season, Gomez jumped into the closer’s role in April after Dalier Hinojosa and David Hernandez struggled in the season’s first week. The 28-year-old Gomez was never armed with power stuff but used his veteran guile to collect saves in 24 of his 26 chances before the All-Star break while sporting a 2.59 ERA and a nifty 1.10 WHIP in 39 games.

Since the break, Gomez hasn’t been nearly as successful: 12-for-15 in save chances with a 5.63 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP. That 1.71 WHIP is the highest among relievers who have at least 10 saves since the break.

Meanwhile, set-up man Hector Neris is six strikeouts away from becoming just the fourth reliever in Phillies history to rack up 100 strikeouts in a season. In 39 games since June 17, Neris has a 1.58 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, with 52 strikeouts and seven (non-intentional) walks in 40 innings.

Overall, Neris has struck out 31.7 percent of the batters he’s faced this season, which ranks 20th in baseball (among relievers with at least 40 innings) and eighth in the National League.

The trio of Gomez, Neris, and rookie Edubray Ramos have become Mackanin’s go-to move when he’s leading games after six innings with his young starting pitching staff. But even if there might be some value in seeing if Neris can handle the pressures of the ninth inning, Mackanin isn’t sure it’s worth it as this point in the season, although he called Neris a “potential closer.”

“He’s got a swing-and-miss pitch, which is important,” Mackanin said of Neris, who has thrown a split-fingered fastball twice as often as any reliever in baseball.

“That’s huge. He’s got velocity. He gets left-handers out with that split. I’m not saying that’s his destiny but he’s capable of being a closer. We’ll see what happens the rest of the year and in spring training. You never know who’s going to be here, who’s not, trades, whatever. He’d be my first logical choice if Gomez wouldn’t be here.”

But Gomez is here, so…

“At this late date in the season I don’t think it would do a whole lot, unless he blows three saves in a row and looks bad,” Mackanin said. “I mean, he might be out of gas. I don’t think he is. I think the selection of pitches has hurt him a little bit.”

In the last month (since Aug. 14), Gomez has blown two of eight save chances and has a 9.00 ERA in 14 games. He’s allowed 24 of the 59 batters he’s faced to reach base via hit or walk; those same hitters are slashing .352/.407/.500 off him in the last month.

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