Solving the Phillies’ closer problem

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The Phillies have some bullpen issues, and this should come as no surprise if you’ve even remotely been following the team this season. This is incredibly frustrating given the Phillies’ front office went to great lengths to try to strengthen their bullpen over the offseason.

Matt Klentak and co. went out and signed Tommy Hunter to a two-year, $18 million contract. Klentak also signed the Phillies’ lone all-star representative from the 2017 campaign, Pat Neshek, to a two-year, $16.2 million deal with a third-year club option. They were solid moves on paper that added experience and depth to a bullpen that could’ve used some help. But both players started the season on the disabled list; Hunter returned in late April while Neshek, who has been nursing a shoulder injury, is now suffering from a forearm injury.

The Phillies have their fair share of success stories from the bullpen. For example, Edubray Ramos is sporting a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings over 17 games with 19 strikeouts. He’s been performing well in his third season with the Phillies. The other success story, prior to his injury, has been Victor Arano who in 12 innings over 10 games is sporting a 0.75 ERA with 13 strikeouts. Arano is currently sidelined with an elbow injury. The best thing about these two pitchers? They’re 25 and 23 respectively, they both appear to have bright futures ahead of them in red and white pinstripes.

The other young Phillies pitcher worth writing home about is Seranthony Dominguez. Since he was called up earlier this month, he has thrown four innings and struck out six batters. He has allowed no runs in his four appearances. Even more impressive, he hasn’t even allowed a hit yet. Dominguez is 23 years old and has appeared as advertised since being called up to the Show.

Despite those three young bright spots, the Phillies still have a hole in their bullpen. They need a more consistent closer. Sure, Hector Neris looked the part last season when he had 26 saves in 29 opportunities. This season he appears to be a shell of the closer he was then, with eight saves in eleven opportunities, matching his blown save total already from a year ago. On May 14.

Neris has a lethal splitter and when he’s on, he can be one of the best weapons in the bullpen. The problem is that he’s too volatile to count on in a save situation. Case and point would be his last two blown saves on May 6 against the Nationals and May 11 against the Mets, despite the fact that he saved two games against the Giants in between.

Gabe Kapler, ever the progressive thinker, has said on more than one occasion that he wants a bullpen without roles. Kapler commented on the flexibility of the bullpen:

“We’re going to read and react to the environment. We said from spring training and the beginning of the season that we would use the most appropriate reliever in a situation. Sometimes that’s going to be Hector. Sometimes that’s going to be others late in the game.”

That’s such a Kapler thing to say … and I love it. If Neris is struggling, which he currently is, why keep running him out there in save situations? Give someone else a chance to earn the save like Ramos did on Sunday. Ride the hot hand, if you will. Put Neris in the 7th or 8th inning to let him get some confidence back and continue to play the matchups in the 9th. That’s what I would do if I were Kapler.

While Neris’ struggles have cost the team three wins this season, they have also opened the door to countless possibilities. Think about it, with a healthy Neshek, Arano, Ramos, Dominguez, or Hunter, the Phillies have five pitchers who they could trust to get three outs in any situation. Dominguez and Arano get the benefit of the doubt for now. With no pressure on Neris he can work on his problems and hopefully regain his form from 2016-2017. If he regains that form the Phillies could have one of the most lethal bullpens in the major leagues. The only thing they’re missing is a lefty or two, but that’s a story for another time.

Having a closer-by-committee might not be a popular thing in the MLB right now, but it is something that makes sense. Think about it, why pigeon-hole yourself to one matchup when you can have more than one guy who does the job well? This might be the inner-progressive thinker in me talking, but I think it’s something that can work. Play the matchups, Gabe. I trust your decision making.


You can follow Anthony Mazziotti on Twitter (@AntMazziotti) and e-mail him at

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