Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez sputters to the end

PHILS03
Phillies relief pitcher Jeanmar Gomez looks at the baseball with catcher A.J. Ellis after Gomez gave up a RBI single to the Atlanta Braves' Matt Kemp during the ninth inning of a recent game.

Pete Mackanin wasted little time. His closer, Jeanmar Gomez, had turned a non-save situation into a save situation Tuesday night. Mackanin emerged from the dugout and snatched the ball from his closer and signaled for Michael Mariot, a waiver claim who spent most of the season at triple A. He had never saved a major-league game.

Mariot, on four pitches, saved Gomez's night in a 7-6 Phillies win over the White Sox.

Regression has come fast for Gomez, who on Aug. 13 notched his 30th save to accompany a 2.52 ERA. In his 16 appearances since then, Gomez has posted a 10.13 ERA.

"He seems to be sputtering along," Mackanin said. "He can't seem to put hitters away. He’s just in a rut."

It could be as simple as Gomez's luck waning. He is a pitcher who relies on contact, and en route to 30 saves, opposing hitters' batting average on balls in play was .286. They hit enough balls at Phillies defenders for Gomez to survive.

But in his last 16 games, the batting average on balls in play has skyrocketed to .412. Mackanin said Gomez has failed to keep his pitches low in the zone, which has resulted in harder contact.

The 28-year-old righthander entered the season as one of the last options to close; he had thrived before as an anonymous middle reliever. He is one of the most integral parts to the Phillies' 68 wins because he protected so many of those one-run victories early in the season.

But his recent slide could make the Phillies' decision to use someone else at closer in 2017 easier. With 11 games left in 2016, Mackanin is reluctant to make a change. Gomez will receive the next save opportunity. But, if he fails, the job could go to someone else.

"I hate to do it, but I'd have to consider it because he hasn't been himself lately," Mackanin said. "We want to win as many games as we can."

The manager could opt for Hector Neris, although he is the first Phillies pitcher to appear in 75 games since Ryan Madson in 2009. Rookie Edubray Ramos is another option. He has quietly blossomed with 40 strikeouts and 10 walks in 39 2/3 innings.

Mariot, too, has made a fine impression minus a horrific night at Citi Field in August. He threw two sliders to jump ahead, 0-2, against Tim Anderson. A groundout ended it, while Gomez watched from the dugout.

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