May 14, 2016
The Phillies enter Saturday night having won five of their last six games and in four of those games, including in each of the last two nights, manager Pete Mackanin has turned to his trusty bullpen tandem of Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez to close out those eventual wins.
It’s a plan that’s worked well, obviously, given the Phillies record (21-15) and their record particularly in one-run games (13-3).
But is it a little dangerous to keep relying on the same two pitchers almost nightly? Is Mackanin concerned at all about the workload of his two trusted relievers six weeks into the season?
“Not concerned,” Mackanin said Saturday afternoon. “I’ve looked at the stats. They both have appeared in (at least 20 games). There are one or two other guys with 20 (games) and 18 pitchers with 18 (games). The reason I’m not concerned is because we are aware of it.”
Mackanin reached over and picked up his trusty chart that tells him just how often each of his pitchers have been used in the season’s first month and a half, including their pitch counts in each appearance.
“They’ve pitched quite a lot,” he said of Neris and Gomez, his 8th and 9th inning relievers. “But I’ve looked at my charts. Gomez has gone three days in a row one time. Their pitch counts have been low in the innings they’ve pitched, and they said they’ve felt fine.”
Gomez has needed just 17 pitches in his last two games. Neris, 28.
Of course, that doesn’t include the work they’re doing before they enter a game, warming up in the bullpen. Those pitches obviously add up, too, even if it’s possibly the one facet of the game a stat hasn’t been created for just yet.
Back to the stats that are available for anyone to see.
Entering Saturday, Neris had appeared in 21 games, tied for the major league lead. Gomez ranked third, with 20 appearances. Neris’s 23 innings also tied him for the most among major league relievers; Gomez, with 21 2/3 innings, again ranked third.
Only two others teams in baseball, the Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins, have at least two relievers with more than 19 innings through the season’s first six weeks. But the Twins' two pitchers have a combined 35 games and the A’s duo has combined 32 games, compared to Neris and Gomez’s 41.
The issue with the Phillies has been the ridiculous amount of one-run games they’ve played this season. The Phils have played in 16 one-run games this season; nine of their last 14 games have been decided by one run.
Mackanin said he’s comfortable using other relievers, like Andrew Bailey, David Hernandez, and Elvis Araujo, in close-and-late situations, too. But he’s been winning games with the Neris-Gomez combination, so if it ain’t broke…
“I’m aware they're on the course for a long season,” Mackanin said. “We can’t keep up this pace. But on the other had there have been an unusual amount of situations with one-run games. When you try to win games, you’ve got to do it. I’m not concerned about it because I’m going to make sure we don’t abuse them. … It’s not going continue like this (with one-run games). And if it does, we’ll have other guys more involved.”
Neris and Gomez have both appeared in 15 of the Phillies' 36 games this season, including in six of the last 10. They’ve been used (successfully) in seven one-run victories since April 17.
Tommy Joseph wasn’t in the lineup on his second day as a major leaguer; Mackanin started Ryan Howard at first base, continuing to utilize a platoon despite Howard’s sluggish start to the season.
Joseph will likely start in two of the next three games, however, as left-handed pitchers are due to pitch for the Marlins on Monday and Tuesday.
Joseph, who was hitting .347 with a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, was added to the big league roster in an effort to boost an offense that’s averaged 3.28 runs per game (second worst in baseball). But could more help be on the way from the farm system?
“No other moves (are) imminent at this point,” general manager Matt Klentak said.
Klentak said he is obviously aware of the lack of offense he’s received from several positions on his roster. But he also reiterated the importance of defense and pitching, and how it’s helped the Phillies get to where they’re at today: six games above .500 with 13 one-run wins.
“I just want to clarify my previous point, it’s lack of offensive production,” Klentak said. “That’s where I credit Pete in recognizing the defensive production and making sure that we extenuate that. And (to see him) really appreciate that, and not be driven to make a move just for the sake of making a move.
“I say all that, (but) if we have players that can contribute on both sides of the ball, we will give them a chance. That’s what we’re looking for. And we’re hoping Tommy can provide a spark.”
The most obvious place the Phillies have lacked for offense is the team’s two corner outfield positions. Twenty-two-year-old Nick Williams, the outfield prospect closest to the major leagues, is hitting .270 with a .294 OBP and .709 OPS in 29 games at Lehigh Valley.
Williams also has 25 strikeouts and five walks in 120 plate appearances with the Pigs. He's hitting .227 with a .244 OBP in 11 games this month.