CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies summoned Seranthony Dominguez last week from the clubhouse to a conference room about 15 feet down the hall. Just as the team did in spring training last year, each player is invited to a “player-plan meeting” in which members of the coaching staff and front office present their ideas for how that player can improve.
This session was dedicated to Dominguez, the flame-throwing righthander who emerged last season as Gabe Kapler’s bullpen weapon of choice. And the meeting was designed to find a way to make Dominguez to be even better.
“We did see that giving him a little bit more rest made him more effective,” Kapler said. “So we’re going to pay really close attention to that. And at the same time we’re going to try to win baseball games, so there may come a time when we need to use him when maybe he could use a little bit of rest.”
The Phillies pitched Dominguez 14 times last season without a day of rest. His ERA in those games -- 6.00 -- was nearly six times higher than it was in the 14 times that Dominguez pitched after one day off. His walk rate spiked, and his WHIP was three times as high, as Dominguez labored when pitching in consecutive games.
They believe that Dominguez’s success in Year 2 will be staked on their ability to wean themselves off relying on him too much. It was hard to blame Kapler last season for riding Dominguez, as the rookie was his most reliable arm in an often-inconsistent bullpen. The Phillies battled throughout the summer for a division title and the biggest games called for the team’s best bullpen arm.
But it could be easier this season for Kapler to find rest for Dominguez. The team signed David Robertson, who has a track record of having success when used in a role similar to Dominguez’s, and traded for Juan Nicasio. Hector Neris, inconsistent at the start of last season, finished with a dominant two months. Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek, both of whom opened last season on the disabled list, are healthy at the start of camp. With the game on the line, there should be more options than just Dominguez.
“It’s like we have weapon after weapon after weapon,” Kapler said. “That could lead to us being less reliant on Seranthony, even if he’s at his best.”
The Phillies transitioned Dominguez last season to the bullpen. He had never pitched above high-A, but the team thought his powerful fastball and wipe-out slider could help him move quickly to the majors as a reliever. They were right.
He needed just 11 games in the minors last season before being promoted to the Phillies. Dominguez was electric. He began his career with 15 2/3 scoreless innings and became the first major-league reliever to begin his career without allowing a walk or hit in his first four appearances. The rookie finished third among all National League relievers in opponent OPS, fourth in opponent batting average, and sixth in WHIP.
“This year, I have more experience coming out of the bullpen,” Dominguez said. “I feel that this year I can just take better care of my arm. If I go into the trainer’s room and do arm care, I can try to save my pitches, not throw too much, that can definitely help.”
Kapler used him in a hybrid closer role as he called on Dominguez in whatever late-inning situation the manager deemed to be the most important. Dominguez will have a similar role this season, but there should be more arms to shoulder the load. And that, the Phillies believe, will make him even more efficient.
“When Seranthony is at his best, there may not be a better reliever in baseball,” Kapler said. “He has no ceiling. He can be as good as anyone in the league.”