Examining How the Phillies Can Stabilize Troublesome Bullpen

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Neris Stays Hot

In a rather disappointing season for the Phils, Neris stood out as one of the few bright spots. Known around Philly for his infectious smile and jubilant personality, Neris was all business on the field last season. The

Dominican Republic native converted 28 of 34 save opportunities, doing so with an impressive 2.93 ERA. This marked the third time he’s pitched 60+ innings and recorded a sub-3.00 ERA in the last three years. Well, he actually carried a 3.01 ERA in 2017, but I won’t hold it over him. The point is, since entering the league at just 24-years-old, Neris has been very productive and seems to be thriving now that he has more experience under his belt.

The Phillies will need Neris to continue his upward trajectory this season if the bullpen is to bounce back. It appears as though the Phillies have confidence that he is capable of doing so, as freshly-minted skipper Joe Girardi has already announced that Neris will be the team’s closer to begin the season.

Vince Velasquez…Reliever?

Ah yes, it wouldn’t quite be baseball season unless a write an excerpt begging and pleading the Phillies to dispense Velasquez out of the bullpen instead of the rotation. A tradition some three years old now, I once again pine for a role reversal for the hard-throwing righty.

We got a sneak peek of such a move last season when Velasquez made ten relief appearances. The results left a lot to be desired, but I’d still contest that if he is to serve the team in any capacity it should be as a reliever.

The primary reason for this belief is rather obvious. He simply has not shown the ability to moderate his pitch count enough to pitch deep into ball games- a staple for successful starting pitchers- despite being given ample time and opportunity to correct that flaw.

Secondly, the Velasquez is a power pitcher that relies on his overwhelming velocity more than a strong array of plus pitches, such characteristics that make him much better suited for a reliever role.

Partnered with Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris out of the pen, Velasquez would give the Phillies some much-needed heat late in ball games and could change his career outlook dramatically under a new role.

Dominguez Returns to Form

Speaking of Seranthony Dominguez, his presence in the late-innings was sorely missed last year and a return to form could greatly impact the Phillies season.

In 2018, his rookie as well as his last fully healthy season, Dominguez was phenomenal. Behind a devastating fastball that routinely sits in the upper 90s, Dominguez carried an 11.5 K/9 ratio and even racked up 16 saves en route to a 2.95 ERA.

Unfortunately, we hardly got a glimpse of his sophomore status before he was lost for the year with a severe elbow injury. An elbow injury that seems to be behind him if the stories out of spring training are to be believed.

In his premiere outing of the spring, Dominguez recorded two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. Additionally, his fastball registered around 94-95 on the stadium radar gun, a sign that he’s headed in the right direction and should be ready for Opening Day.

After his outing against Toronto, Girardi spoke glowingly of his progress and expressed caution with his early-season usage.

“That was a bright spot today,” Girardi said. “The fact that he’s able to get quick outs, throw strikes with all his pitches. The [radar] gun up there says 95. I don’t know how close that is, but it looked like it came out pretty good.”

“I really don’t know if we’ll use him [on] back-to-back [days] early in the year,” Girardi said. “That’s something, we’ll have discussions — our medical team, pitching coach Bryan [Price], [general manager] Matt Klentak,

Ned [Rice] and everyone involved. But my inkling is to be careful using him back-to-back at the beginning.”

With the bullpen already consisting of so many other question marks, a triumphant return of Dominguez really can’t be understated. Hopefully, his early spring success will translate into the regular season.

Defined Roles

Girardi has already expressed his desire for defined roles in the bullpen since being brought on as manager in Philly but acknowledged that it is often easier said than done to make it happen.

After announcing Neris as the closer so early in the spring, though, I think Girardi will be able to sell his guys on the remaining roles, once he figures out what he wants each of them to do.

While roles don’t necessarily translate to success on the field, I do think having defined roles will help the staff and players hold each other accountable, which was a big team issue under ex-skipper Gabe Kapler.

Lefty Specialist

Similarly to the all right-handed rotation, the Phillies’ current crop of relievers is very right-hand dominant, a trend that has confusingly been going on for a few years. In order to generate the level of success they want from their pen, the Phillies will have to find a lefty specialist or two to deploy throughout the season. Whether it be Adam Morgan, who was solid last season before being shelved with injury, or Francisco Liriano, who was invited to spring camp following a minor-league pact, or an outside arm that has yet to be contacted, the Phillies need to have at least one southpaw in the bullpen mix.

If the Phillies are able to do all of, or at least most of these things, they could oversee their bullpen unit go from shaky to stable in 2020, which would go a long way towards helping them compete for the division pennant.

Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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