Phillies bullpen finds its groove with Jeanmar Gomez as closer

Jeanmar Gomez has been stellar in save opportunities for the Phillies in the early going (Frank Klose/Philliedelphia)

After four games, Philadelphia Phillies fans were near restless.  How could a bullpen be so bad?  Through 10 2/3 innings the Phillies bullpen had alarming results.  The bullpen allowed 18 hits, 10 walks, and allowed 15 earned runs, for a 12.66 earned run average.    The first five runners relievers inherited were allowed to score.   Things changed once the Phillies gave Jeanmar Gomez the opportunity to serve at the team's closer.

Gomez is not your prototypical closer; he does not have a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and blow by hitters.  What he does have is an even temperament, something that a reliever getting the final three outs needs to have.  Last night in the Phillies' 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, the speedy B.J. Melvin Upton, Jr. tapped a soft ground ball up the third base line and took a funny hop that did not allow third baseman Maikel Franco to field it.  A leadoff single would be enough to damage the psyche of some relievers.

Not Gomez.  Derek Norris followed with a liner that hit Gomez, who recovered quickly and confidently to throw Upton out at second base for the first out.  Two ground outs later, Gomez and the Phillies were out of the inning and Gomez earned his third save in 2016 and his fourth of his Major League career.

One problem heading into the 2016 bullpen was the lack of roles.   Mackanin told reporters after the Phillies' 3-0 victory that the uncertainty of roles came into play in the young Phillies season, as transcribed by Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice:

"I think the uncertainty of roles had something to do with it," Mackanin said of the 'pen's turnaround. "Nobody stepped during spring training and rose above the pack and I think everybody kind of felt a lot of pressure to impress. … Now they’ve got their confidence back and we feel a lot better about it."

Gomez was "stepping up" in Spring Training.  It was just that he was an unlikely closer candidate.

In 2016 Grapefruit League action, Gomez pitched six innings without a decision.  He allowed just one run, ending the Spring with a 1.50 earned run average.  Gomez allowed four hits and one run, walking nobody and striking out six.  As Gomez quietly pitched well, the relievers expected to contend for the closer role – right-handed relievers David Hernandez or Dalier Hinojosa – struggled to find their command.  Gomez was the lone reliever to pitch a clean inning in the opening series against the Cincinnati Reds and the job became his.  The bullpen ahead of him also found themselves.

With Gomez now in the back end of the bullpen, the bullpen collectively has pitched 10 2/3 innings, coincidentally the same number as the first four games.  The results are much better.  The bullpen has allowed two hits, no earned runs, and put together a 0.562 WHIP.   The bullpen has scattered a few walks, but have come out of it unscathed.

Whether Gomez has a future as a Major League closer remains to be seen. But for a Phillies team whose starting pitching staff has suddenly become reliable, the bullpen is catching its groove.  The team can thank Gomez for that.

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