Mackanin 'not going to call anybody a closer'

Mackanin 'not going to call anybody a closer'

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If the Phillies have a three-run lead in the ninth inning on Opening Day in Cincinnati, somebody will have to pitch to protect it.

Will it be their closer? Do they even have a closer?

"You'll find out," general manager Matt Klentak said on Tuesday afternoon at Bright House Field. "So will I."

This is the first time in more than 15 years the Phillies have not entered the season with an established closer. In years past, it has been Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Tom Gordon, Billy Wagner and Jose Mesa. This season it could be David Hernandez or Dalier Hinojosa or ... somebody else.

"It's up in the air," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You guys see what we see. Hinojosa is still a candidate. Hernandez is a candidate. After that we might have to use a committee situation. It is what it is, and we have to try to find somebody that can do it."

It has been an interesting spring in that regard. Hernandez began camp as the favorite because he signed a one-year, $3.9 million contract in the offseason, making him the only free agent the Phillies inked to a Major League deal.

But Hernandez started the spring slowly because of soreness in his right elbow. He is healthy, but he has pitched in only three Grapefruit League games. Tuesday's appearance was cancelled because of rain.

Hinojosa had a 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances last season. He has a 4.50 ERA in seven appearances this spring, although he allowed two hits and two runs in one inning on Monday against the Blue Jays.

"That's probably the worst outing that we've all seen from him," Mackanin said. "I think he was overthrowing all of his pitches. I think he might have been auditioning for that role."

Right-hander Andrew Bailey emerged as a favorite early in camp, based on four scoreless innings in four appearances, but Mackanin has not been enamored with Bailey's past three performances, and Bailey could open the season in Triple-A.

"I don't have a rooting interest in this," Klentak said. "I want the best seven guys in the bullpen to get outs. Sometimes declaring who pitches the ninth allows who pitches the eighth and who pitches the seventh to kind of fall into place a little bit better. I understand the way that works. But ultimately, we're looking for the best combination of relievers to get outs toward the end of the game."

Mackanin will not name a closer unless he is "100 percent sure about somebody that I want to call a closer."

"I'm not going to call anybody a closer," he said. "A closer is somebody that you can count on for the ninth inning. I don't know if we probably have one. I hope we have one, but I'm not going to name one right now just to call a guy a closer. It doesn't really mean anything."

Big Piece's struggles: Ryan Howard is struggling at the plate, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on Tuesday. Since hitting a grand slam over the batter's eye at Bright House Field on March 18, he is 2-for-19 with one double, two walks and 11 strikeouts. That does not include a 1-for-5 effort with four strikeouts in a Minor League game on Sunday at Carpenter Complex.

"Yeah, I'd like to see better at-bats," Mackanin said.

Howard entered camp with the opportunity to earn more playing time, but it looks as though he and Darin Ruf will be platooning at first base.

"Let's put it this way: I need to see more," Mackanin said. "More production. In his defense, [Howard is] behind everybody, [because] he was sick for a week. I'd like to think he caught up. I think he's caught up. This is performance. We have to get performance. Numbers matter."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.