ST LOUIS – The Phillies told Seranthony Dominguez in March that they wanted him to transition to the bullpen after he spent six minor-league seasons as a starting pitcher. Dominguez was a bit disappointed.
"Obviously any pitcher wants to be a starting pitcher, you don't want to be a reliever," said Dominguez, who started the season as a double-A reliever. "But then I thought about it and said 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 allowed the sting of his disappointment to dissolve and two months later he was in the major leagues. He pitched the final two innings Saturday in a 7-6 comeback win over the Cardinals to earn his first save. The righthander has been brilliant as a reliever, starting his major-league career by retiring 20 of the 21 batters he has faced in his first six games.
"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, 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."
Kapler said Dominguez's outing Saturday was "courageous." The Phillies do not have a defined closer, but it is starting to look as if Dominguez is their first choice for crucial situations. Nothing is too big for him, Kapler said. His experience as a starting pitcher gave the Phillies confidence that he could pitch more than one inning. Kapler said they will often use him like that.
Dominguez's last experience in the ninth inning before Saturday came when he was a 19-year-old in the Gulf Coast League, when he was simply building his arm strength on the backfields of Clearwater, Fla. Saturday, he admitted, felt a bit different. But he was not fazed.
He kept the ball from his first save and was asked where he thinks he would have been Saturday if he was still a starting pitcher. "Double A," Dominguez said. Instead, he was on the mound at Busch Stadium mowing down major-leaguers. The last three months have been quite a ride, ever since he let go of that disappointment.
"I didn't even know there was such thing as a 98-mph cutter, to be honest," said Scott Kingery. "He's been dominant. Anytime you throw 98 with movement, it's good stuff, and he can command that as well as a couple of other pitches. You have that coming out of the 'pen it's tough to hit."
Gabe Kapler seemed to lose his cool when the umpires began a rain delay with two outs in the fifth inning. Dark clouds had moved over Busch Stadium, but it had not yet begun to rain. The Phillies, ahead by a run, were an out away from making the game official and placing Zach Eflin in line for a win,.
Kapler left the dugout as catcher Andrew Knapp began to argue with crew chief Larry Vanover. Kapler stepped between them to have his own heated discussion — and a few emphatic finger points — with the home-plate umpire. Kapler returned to the dugout and heavy rain soon followed.
"Essentially, I was just saying that we'd like to see a raindrop before we come off the field in that situation," Kapler said. "It was a pretty big deal. I understand they have a difficult decision to make and I understand Larry's position very well and I'm empathetic to it.