The Phillies have made a change in the ninth inning and will use veteran right-hander Joaquin Benoit to close out games “for the time being,” manager Pete Mackanin told reporters today (Twitter link via Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com).
[Related: Updated Phillies depth chart]
The change comes on the heels of a dreadful run for 2016 closer Jeanmar Gomez, who figures to slide into a lower-leverage role as he looks to bounce back. Dating back to last year’s All-Star break, Gomez has surrendered 30 runs on 47 hits and 13 walks in 30 innings of work. He’s managed a respectable 25 strikeouts and 47.7 percent ground-ball rate in that time, but he’s also been tagged for five homers en route to that ghastly 9.00 earned run average.
Benoit, 39, will bring some veteran experience to the ninth inning, as he’s logged 38 saves between the 2013-16 seasons. He’ll be used for now over younger and arguably higher-upside options like 27-year-old Hector Neris and 24-year-old Edubray Ramos, each of whom will continue to operate as a setup man to the new Philadelphia closer. While it’s probably not the primary motivator behind the decision, using Benoit in the ninth inning will limit the save opportunities for the Phillies’ younger arms, which could hold down their arbitration earnings a bit in a couple of years.
While many believe that it’s only a matter of time until Neris eventually steps into the ninth inning for Mackanin’s Phillies, that coronation may have to wait for another couple of months. It’s possible, though, that one of the Phillies’ quality young setup men could be racking up saves by season’s end, as Benoit is only signed to a one-year, $7.5MM deal and figures to be a prime trade candidate for the Phillies this summer if he’s pitching well. And, if he’s not pitching well, it stands to reason that he’d cede the ninth to one of the younger arms anyhow.
While Benoit got off to a dreadful start with the Mariners last season, he rebounded in emphatic fashion upon being traded to the Blue Jays. A 16-year MLB veteran, Benoit logged a 5.18 ERA in 24 1/3 innings with Seattle but turned in video game numbers in Toronto: a 0.38 ERA with 24 strikeouts against nine walks in 23 2/3 innings. The overall result was a 2.81 ERA with 9.8 K/9 against 4.5 BB/9 in 48 innings. That marked Benoit’s sixth sub-3.00 ERA in the past seven years, though a torn calf muscle suffered late in the year limited his overall workload.
In a poll conducted earlier this afternoon, 37 percent of MLBTR readers felt that Benoit was the right choice to step into the ninth inning, though just over 42 percent feel that the job should have gone to Neris. Fantasy players, as a reminder, you can follow @closernews on Twitter for daily updates on tenuous closer situations and ninth-inning performances.