When Seranthony Dominguez was first called up by the Phillies on May 5 last year, it was a surprise.
It’s not often a team promotes a 23-year-old converted starter-turned-relief pitcher who had started the season in AA and pitched just 13 innings there, then a scant 3.2 innings in AAA before joining the big league club. But the numbers he put up in the minors (12.46 K/9, 1.38 BB/9, 2.08 ERA in 8 Reading appearances), were eye-opening enough to make Matt Klentak and Gabe Kapler pull the trigger.
Dominguez was immediately thrust into a late-inning, sometimes multi-inning role, and for the most part, thrived. In his first three months he had a 1.91 ERA with a 33.3% K% and a 9.0% BB% as opponents hit .134/.229/.181 against him. But over the last two months of 2018 and in his first three appearances of 2019, Dominguez has been less effective. In August and September last season, his ERA jumped to 4.87, but his K-rate fell only slightly to 29.9% and his walk rate went up just a bit, to 10.3%.
This year, in his three appearances, he’s already walked two guys and hit a batter to go along with four strikeouts. He’s given up four earned runs and three hits, including a killer three-run home run in the 9th inning of Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins that turned a 3-2 Phils deficit into a 6-2 hole.
So what’s up with Seranthony?
When he first took the mound against the San Francisco Giants for his big league debut on May 5 at Citizens Bank Park, everyone saw why the Phillies were happy to speed up his timetable. He faced three batters and got them all out, one via a strikeout. Two nights later, he did the same thing, and then again the night after that. In fact, Dominguez didn’t allow a run until his 13th appearance on June 6, against the Cubs in Chicago, mainly because of pitches like this.
Seranthony Domínguez, 97mph Fastball (foul) and 91mph Slider (swinging K), Overlay/Slow pic.twitter.com/iYPwAoEIwO— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 17, 2018
Seranthony Dominguez, Unhittable 99mph Cutting Fastball. pic.twitter.com/MheW4GxLWW— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 13, 2018
Seranthony Domínguez, as a 23-year-old rookie, was the and one of the best ever against right-handers.— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) October 10, 2018
With an improved changeup, like this one below, his ceiling is astronomical.https://t.co/VEAn4kFmrL pic.twitter.com/RaDSNm77Xk
His velocity last year stayed consistent and, according to Brooks Baseball, was 98.55 mph for the season. He routinely touched 100 mph and his max velocity was 101.02. This year, however, in the admittedly small sample size of three starts, his four-seamer velocity is down to 97.09 mph and his max velo is 99.07.
Perhaps as a result of the decreased velocity, he’s throwing his four-seam fastball 54.8% of the time this season, down from 66.6% a year ago. His slider usage has jumped, too, from 27.0% last year to 38.7% this year. His changeup usage (6.5%) has remained the same.
The increase in his slider has come as that pitch is currently moving a bit less than it was last season. In 2018, his slider experienced 3.32 inches of horizontal movement on average, and gave right-handers fits. This year, it’s moving 3.00 inches horizontally (according to Brooks Baseball). An increased use in a pitch that’s moving less isn’t ideal, but perhaps a loss of confidence in his fastball has Dominguez searching for answers elsewhere.
The long ball has also become a problem. Over the final two months of last year he allowed 1.33 HR/9 compared to 0.24 HR/9 over his first three months. So far this year, he’s given up just the one, but it came to a left-handed hitter on what appeared to be a slider in.
Realmuto obviously wanted the pitch down, but Dominguez left it up and it didn’t do much as it approached the plate. That pitch is indicative of the command issues Dominguez has had so far in 2019, and his late-season penchant for giving up longballs reared its ugly head once again on Saturday.
The good news is that Dominguez said after the game on Saturday that he isn’t hurt and that his velocity should return the more work he gets. And there is reason to believe that will happen. Everyone will certainly be watching the radar gun in future outings, and it’s unlikely he’ll pitch in a high leverage situation for a few games in order to get himself back on track.
On Episode 275 of “Hittin’ Season,” I talked about Dominguez’ struggles with Justin Klugh and Liz Roscher, and what the Phillies might do at the back of the bullpen if his struggles continue. Could a call to Craig Kimbrel be in the works?
It’s too soon to give up on Seranthony Dominguez. But after last season’s fade and his start to the ‘19 campaign, it’s fair to wonder what’s up with Seranthony.