Jeanmar Gomez’ run as the Phillies closer is over.
Manager Pete Mackanin made the announcement shortly before the Phils’ series opener against the New York Mets, naming veteran right-hander Joaquin Benoit as the new 9th inning man, a move talked about at length in the latest edition of The Felske Files.
Hector Neris had been the other most likely candidate to replace Gomez, whose struggles this season have come on the heels of a disastrous September last year in which he yielded a 19.13 ERA in 12 appearances.
Benoit, 39, gives the Phillies a veteran, if inexperienced arm, as closer. He’s coming off a season in which he posted a 2.81 ERA in 51 games, striking out 9.8 batters per inning while walking a rather high 4.5, in a set-up role for the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays. Benoit has also played for the San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers in his 16-year MLB career.
So far this season he has yet to give up a run in three innings of work, allowing just one hit with four strikeouts and one walk. And while Benoit has the veteran presence to pitch the 9th inning, he’s never really been a full-time closer.
His career high in saves is 24, set back in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers. He has only one other season with double-digit saves, in 2014, with 11. But he still throws hard, averaging 94.2 mph on his fastball this season, essentially the same velocity he’s had since 2010. He also throws a nasty slider and change up that has left hitters guessing so far this year.
In selecting Benoit, Mackanin decided to leave Neris in the set-up role, a position in which the 27-year-old righty thrived last season. In 79 games (80 1⁄3 IP), he posted an ERA of 2.58 with a WHIP of 1.108, thanks to a blazing fastball of his own and an almost unhittable split-finger pitch. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine and walked 3.4, and so far this season has yet to give up a run in 3 1⁄3 innings, allowing four strikeouts, one walk and one hit.
Keeping Neris in his current role allows Mackanin to have him go more than one inning, perhaps handling the more difficult portions of a lineup in the 7th and 8th innings.
The change was necessitated after two very poor outings by Gomez on the heels of last September’s disaster. On Opening Day, he nearly blew a three-run lead after giving up a two-run homer in Cincinnati, and on Sunday, he blew a 3-0 lead by serving up a three-run shot to Ryan Zimmerman in the 9th inning.
Gomez’ inability to miss bats was a major concern coming into the season, and both Benoit and Neris do a much better job at getting whiffs.
Phillies Relief Pitchers K-Rates
The leash was short for Gomez entering 2017, as it should have been.
So for now, the 9th inning belongs to Joaquin Benoit.