ST. LOUIS - A year ago, Seranthony Dominguez was showing off a blazing fastball and a hard, sharp slider as a starting pitcher for Clearwater of the Florida State League.
Phillies officials watched that power combination all season and decided Dominguez's best and quickest route to the majors would be as a reliever. The conversion was made in spring training. At first, the 23-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic was skeptical of the move - after all, who grows up dreaming of being a reliever? - but now he's loving it.
"Any pitcher wants to be a starter," Dominguez said. "But I thought about it and decided I'm going to put it in God's hands and if that's what he wants me to do and that's what the coaches want me to do, I'm going to do it because I'm here, really, to help the team win. I'm here for them."
Dominguez was there for the Phillies in a big way on Saturday. He brought some sanity to a rather crazy and occasionally sloppy game - the Phils blew leads of 3-0 and 5-3 - by pitching the final two innings to lock down a 7-6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium (see first take).
Dominguez hit 98 mph on the radar gun in notching his first big-league save. Two of his six outs were strikeouts. Called up from Triple A on May 7, Dominguez has begun his big-league career with six scoreless appearances. He has not allowed a hit or a walk. He has struck out seven.
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The Phillies have something special in the kid who signed for $25,000 in October 2011.
"He's a strike thrower and that's a really good profile for a reliever who throws 97 to 99," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I throw 97 to 99 (mph), plus I throw strikes, plus I can land my secondary pitch for a strike, and by the way, that's kind of nasty, too. Oh, and my fastball has cut and sometimes sink. Those are all characteristics that make us feel that Seranthony is special."
Phillies officials were thinking future closer when they converted Dominguez to the bullpen. But this soon? In the big leagues? Oh, wait, Kapler is loath to assign roles in the bullpen, never mind dub someone the closer. Just get outs when you're called upon.
Getting six of them wasn't easy.
"We were looking to get a little length from Seranthony since he came to the big leagues for us," Kapler said. "It's something that we've been considering and we will continue to consider. It won't always be that way. We won't always use him for two or two-plus, but there will be stretches that we do use him like that. One of the things that's nice about him is that he has a history of starting games and he can give us a little more length. He's tough and his arm bounces back well. All of those things in aggregate give us confidence that he's capable of taking down two and two-plus. He was electric today."
Scott Kingery was one of the Phillies' heroes (see story). He stroked a game-tying, two-out triple in the eighth, setting up Jorge Alfaro for the go-ahead RBI single, then enjoyed watching as Dominguez locked things down.
"I didn't even know there was such a thing as a 98-mph cutter, to be honest," Kingery said with a laugh.
"In a lot of ways, that felt like the biggest win of the year," Kapler said.
The Phils are 26-17 and just a half-game behind the Braves for first place in the NL East.
Dominguez threw his arms in the air when Odubel Herrera, whose on-base streak climbed to 45 games with a two-run homer, chased down the final out. The pitcher was thrilled to notch his first big-league save.
It made you wonder where he'd be if he was still a starting pitcher.
"In Double A," he said with a laugh.