When Jeanmar Gomez takes the field, it’s usually at the start of the ninth inning and all but one of his five appearances have been with the Phillies holding a small lead.
Yet, don’t call him the closer, at least that’s what manager Pete Mackanin is avoiding at this point in the season.
“He’s making it look easy,” Mackanin said on Tuesday. “I don’t want to jinx Gomez.”
The thought process is quite simple: the manager doesn’t want the pressure that comes with being a closer to get to Gomez just yet – even though every indication points to him holding that title. Throughout spring training, especially towards the end and then through the first few games of the regular season, the relievers were getting knocked around and handing out free passes.
Mackanin believes it had to do with the competition and the players “pressing” just a bit.
“The uncertainty of roles had something to do with [the struggles],” Mackanin said. “Nobody stepped up during spring training and rose above the pack. I think everybody felt a lot of pressure to impress.”
While no one individual may have stepped up then, it’s becoming obvious that Gomez is taking this unlabeled role of his and running with it. The 28-year-old is 4-for-4 in save opportunities, a mark that puts him just behind Washington’s Jonathan Papelbon (5) for most in the league.
Even more impressive, Gomez had appeared in 423 innings in the six years prior to this season and recorded just one save back.
“He’s certainly making a statement and making a case for himself,” Mackanin said. “He seems to show a lot of poise in that role. Last year he was probably overworked because of the situation we were in.”
Gomez can attest to the situation he was in last year, appearing in a whopping 65 games in his first season in Philadelphia. Prior to that, the most outings he ever made in a single season were 44 in 2014. He credits his early season success to keeping his pitches down and making “quick adjustments.”
His play has been the bright spot for a bullpen that has quickly turned things around since being shelled for 15 runs in their first eight innings of work. Since then, the unit has made a complete 180.
“These guys are doing a really good job,” Gomez said. “We’re trying to stay together and speak more during the game and focus more.”
Whatever they’re doing differently, it’s working, and Gomez has been rewarding his fellow relievers’ turnaround with success in the ninth inning.
When Gomez gets the call and takes the jog out to the mound, the sound of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” echoes through Citizens Bank Park. It’s a song that is played generically because as of now, Gomez hasn’t been asked to pick a song. That’s something reserved for the Phillies’ official closer.
Pretty soon he’ll have his own music to walk out to.