For the second season in a row now, the Phillies have made a quick change in the closer's role. Last season, Jeanmar Gomez was the beneficiary when he was anointed the closer. He went on to record 37 saves for the Phillies, but imploded over the last six weeks of the season, and his ERA jumped from 2.52 on August 13th to 4.85 by the end of the season. This year, he's the one that's out and veteran Joaquin Benoit moves into the role.
The Phillies signed Benoit as a free agent in December as part of a bullpen revamping plan that also saw the addition of Pat Neshek to the back end of the bullpen. The plan was to have veteran pitchers to take some of the heat off of young pitchers like Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos, plus allow for a lighter workload on Gomez. The additions have worked well, but Gomez struggled in the early going and manager Pete Mackanin had seen enough.
The 29-year old right-hander was one-for-two in save opportunities this season, but struggled in both outings. On Sunday, he allowed three runs in the top of the ninth, but Cesar Hernandez delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the inning that made Gomez the winning pitcher. In his first save opportunity of the year in Cincinnati, Gomez gave up two runs in one inning of work, but still recorded the save. Last Friday, Gomez looked good in a relief stint against Washington, striking out two batters and throwing a perfect ninth inning. Overall, his ERA is at 15.00 on the season, and he's allowed five hits - two of them home runs - in three innings of work.
"I think it's in the best interest of the team," said Mackanin prior to Monday's game against the Mets. "I chose Benoit because I didn't want to put undue pressure on Neris at this point in time. He had a great year last year and he's doing very well this year, and I think as valuable as he is in the eighth inning, I didn't want to put that on him where he had to be the closer."
Mackanin told Benoit that there are no guarantees that he will be the team's closer for the rest of the season, but he was making the move now and needed him to get the closer's role under control.
Benoit has been a closer at times during his career, including in 2013 with Detroit when he saved 24 games. He saved 11 the following season with San Diego, and has just four saves since then. In his career, the 39-year old - he turns 40 in July - has pitched in over 700 major league games and has a career mark of 57-43 with a 3.78 ERA and 51 saves. Prior to working in the bullpen, Benoit was a starter for the Texas Rangers and has made 55 starts in his nearly 17 years in the majors. As a starter, Benoit went 14-19 with a career 6.06 ERA. He hasn't made a start since 2005.
If Benoit works out well in the closer's role, it could pay added dividends for the Phillies. A successful role in that spot would make Benoit attractive to other teams as a potential trade target in July. That scenario would play perfectly for the Phillies, because they could get something in return for Benoit and be able to then hand the closer's role over to Neris in mid-season.