Jeanmar Gomez went into spring training unsure of where he fit into the landscape of the Phillies bullpen.
It was pretty clear from the jump that the closer’s role was up for grabs between David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey, Ernesto Frieri, Edward Mujica and Dalier Hinojosa. That left Gomez on the outside looking in.
30 saves later, he’s on the inside with no one else around him.
“He was the last choice to be our closer,” said Phillies manager Pete Mackanin following the team’s 6-3 win over Colorado.
From essentially being a walk-on into the closer’s role to becoming just the 16th pitcher in team history to record at least 30 saves in a single season, Gomez’s ascension has been a major boost to the organization. Before Gomez came into the picture, the Phillies were heading nowhere when it came to the ninth inning.
It wasn’t until April 9 before Gomez got his first opportunity. He retired the side in a 1-0 win over the New York Mets, and that would be the beginning of his breakout season. He was a perfect 9-for-9 before blowing his first save and only has three to date, making him 30-for-33 on the year. His efforts have him seventh in all of baseball for most saves and fifth among National League closers.
“It’s very impressive,” Mackanin said. “We gave everybody an opportunity and he just stayed with it.”
To show just how far he’s come, revert to last season when Gomez didn’t record a single save but was responsible for three blown saves. His 0-for-3 line in save opportunities certainly didn’t inspire any confidence heading into this season, which is why his name wasn’t even discussed during the spring training battle. Likewise, in 185 games prior to this season, the 28-year-old had recorded just one save.
What’s behind that sudden turnaround?
“He stays poised on the mound,” Mackanin said.
That, above all else, is the most important quality for a closer to possess.
“I’m thrilled for him,” Mackanin added. “He’s such a great guy. He’s been extremely valuable to us. His first son was born [on August 3]… it’s been a good year for him.”
A good year perhaps is an understatement for someone who could very well make a push for the franchise’s record for most saves in an individual season. The feat belongs to Jose Mesa, who closed the door 45 times in 2002. The Phillies have 44 games to go with Gomez needing to close out 15 of those to hit that mark.
Whether he gets it or not doesn’t change the outlook of Gomez’s surprise season. As Mackanin said, he’s been a valuable piece on a team that has taken the right step forward in the rebuilding process. His efforts this year also may very well cement himself as the closer for the next couple of seasons as this team begins to get more competitive.