Benoit tabbed to close for Phillies

Right-hander collected career-high 24 saves in 2013 with Detroit

Benoit tabbed to close for Phillies

PHILADELPHIA -- Joaquin Benoit is in. Jeanmar Gomez is out.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin removed Gomez as the closer before Monday night's series opener against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. Gomez had allowed two home runs in his first three appearances this season, nearly blowing a save on Opening Day in Cincinnati and blowing a save Sunday against the Nationals. He also lost the job late in the 2016 season.

"I didn't like what I saw, so I just felt it was the best thing for the team," Mackanin said.

Mackanin said he will not officially name Benoit the closer. But if Benoit succeeds, he certainly will continue to close.

"I believe everybody was surprised," Benoit said. "This was something we weren't expecting, and I wasn't looking forward to it, but somebody has to do it. I'm not going to break any records. I'm not going to go for Mariano [Rivera]'s record or [Trevor] Hoffman's. I try to give the team an opportunity to get a win. That's what I'm going to try to do here."

Hector Neris will remain the setup man, with Gomez, Edubray Ramos and Pat Neshek serving as the primary relief pitchers in the fifth through seventh innings.

"I don't want to put any pressure on Neris at this point in time," Mackanin said about keeping him in his current role. "Most likely, in his career, that time will come [to close]."

Benoit, 39, has saved 51 games in his 16-year career, including a career-high 24 with the 2013 Tigers. He has the stuff to close. His fastball averages 94 mph, and he gets plenty of swings and misses, which comes in handy in pressure-packed ninth innings.

Benoit had a 30 percent whiff rate this past season, according to Statcast™. Whiff rate measures how often opponents miss when they swing at a pitch. Gomez had an 18.6 percent whiff rate in 2016, which caused problems because he could not strike out hitters when he got into jams.

Benoit's new role not only will impact the ninth -- it could also affect the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Phillies signed him to a one-year, $7.5 million contract in the offseason. He entered the season as a likely trade candidate.

Will Benoit's value be enhanced if he pitches successfully in the ninth?

"Without a doubt," said Mackanin, who added that the Trade Deadline did not factor into his decision. "He's healthy. You can't even tell how old he is by the way he pitches. This could be a blessing in disguise for us, depending on how it all works its way out."

Gomez fell into the closer's role early in the 2016 season out of desperation. He succeeded early, but he struggled the final six weeks of the season, losing his job to Neris. Including his first three appearances this season, Gomez is 1-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his past 22 appearances.

"He was fine," Mackanin said about Gomez. "He knows he has some issues mechanically or otherwise, and he's got to fix it. I just told him I want to get you out of that pressure cooker and get you back to where you were the first four months of the season. If he can do that, then we've got an overall better bullpen."

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
With prior closing experience and strong stats since the outset of 2010 (2.39 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.0 K/9 rate), Benoit has what it takes to earn saves in the City of Brotherly Love. The righty should be active in all roto leagues, while fellow Philly reliever Neris (lifetime 10.7 K/9 rate) should be owned in 15-team formats. Meanwhile, Gomez can be dropped in all mixed leagues, as he is unlikely to get another chance to replicate the magic of his 37-save '16 campaign.

Benoit named Phillies closer

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.