By Jack Ryan
If you accept the fact that the 2016 Phillies need a closer after the winter trade of Ken Giles, you are assuming that they will be in a lot of games when the result may be in doubt in the late innings.
Which may be a leap of faith!
But right-hander Andrew Bailey seems like the frontrunner for that role
. He has allowed one hit and struck out five in four scoreless innings. He struck out the side Tuesday against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla.
“Bailey has done it before, so just talking about it, I would lean more towards looking at him as the guy, only because he’s done it before and had success,” pitching coach Bob McClure said. “But it could change. It could change. I’m kind of up in the air on it a little bit.”
McClure coached Bailey in Boston in 2012, but the righty had shoulder issues then.
“He’s much improved since then,” McClure said. “I might have to pitch him in a Minor League game. He’s been so efficient.”
McClure also mentioned another interesting candidate: right-hander Dalier Hinojosa. He has thrown the ball very well in camp, allowing two hits, one walk and striking out seven in five scoreless innings. He went 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances last season after the Phillies claimed him off waivers from Boston in July.
“Hinojosa has showed me that he might be able to do it,” McClure said. “He has an out pitch. He gets righties and lefties, so he’d definitely be somebody I’d look at in that role, too.”
David Hernandez entered camp the favorite because the Phillies signed him to a $3.9 million contract in December, making him the only free agent they signed to a Major League contract. But Hernandez has been slowed because of right triceps tendinitis. He could pitch in his first Grapefruit League since March 1 on Saturday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.
Hernandez still has time to get ready for the season, but he might not have long enough to earn the closer’s job.
The Phillies figure to carry seven pitchers in the bullpen. Bailey, Hinojosa, Hernandez, Edward Mujica, Brett Oberholtzer and Jeanmar Gomez are strong choices for the first six spots. Rule 5 Draft pick Daniel Stumpf could have the edge for the final spot.
Because Stumpf is a Rule 5 pick, the Phillies have plenty of incentive to keep him on the roster and give him additional evaluation during the season. The other left-handers in camp can open the season in the Minor Leagues without risk of being lost. Bobby LaFromboise has pitched well. He is out of options, but because he signed a Minor League contract he can open the season in Triple-A.
Left-hander James Russell also is on a Minor League contract. He has a June 1 out clause, which again gives the Phillies further time to evaluate him. Elvis Araujo and Mario Hollands, who is behind schedule following Tommy John surgery last year, both have options remaining.
“We’ve got plenty of time to see more of them,” McClure said of his bullpen candidates.