The closer position has been a consistent problem for the Phillies in recent seasons and the offseason addition of Corey Knebel has not solved it.
Knebel blew his fourth save in 15 chances and walked his 15th and 16th batters in 25 innings in Tuesday night’s 11-9 loss to the Miami Marlins.
Twelve hours later, the right-hander was demoted from the closer role by manager Rob Thomson.
“I talked to Corey,” Thomson said about two hours before the first pitch of Wednesday’s series finale against the Marlins. “First of all, I wanted to make sure he’s healthy and he looked me in the eye and said he was.
“We discussed the situation. For the near future, we’ll put him in spots where he can breathe a little bit because he’s not throwing the ball where he wants to and he knows that. He was very professional about it. He wants the ball. He’s a competitor. He wants that ninth inning and I want him to have that ninth inning, as well, and hopefully with a couple of these (lower leverage) outings, we’ll get him back.”
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What will constitute Knebel being back?
“Throwing strikes, throwing the ball where he wants to, landing the breaking ball,” Thomson said.
Knebel’s reaction to the news was succinct.
“I don’t think there’s anything to say,” he said. “Decision has been made. I’m going to go do my job.”
Thomson said the Phillies would use a closer by committee approach for the time being. Seranthony Dominguez will certainly get some looks and could emerge as the guy. He had pitched on Monday and Tuesday so his availability Wednesday was not known. (Teams don’t give away that stuff for strategic reasons.) Brad Hand, Connor Brogdon, Jose Alvarado and Andrew Bellatti could also get the ball in the ninth inning, depending on availability, hot hand and matchups. The Phillies will likely look to add bullpen help – an annual need – at the trade deadline. Meanwhile in Triple A, Francisco Morales and Mark Appel continue to percolate.
The Phillies signed Knebel to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason in hopes that he’d solidify the annual problem that has been the closer spot. Knebel bet on himself taking a one-year deal, the thinking being he could be more attractive on next winter’s free-agent market if he pitched well. There’s still time for this thing to work out for both sides, but, for now, Knebel is not the Phillies’ closer and the unending bullpen uncertainty at the back of games continues.