So who is the Phillies' closer?
-- Greg P., Hoboken, N.J.It sounds like it will be Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia, Tommy Hunter, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and even Hector Neris.But Neris lost his hold on the job. Ramos closed Sunday's 4-2 victory over the Mets, although Phillies manager Gabe Kapler
So who is the Phillies' closer?
-- Greg P., Hoboken, N.J.
It sounds like it will be Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia, Tommy Hunter, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and even Hector Neris.
But Neris lost his hold on the job. Ramos closed Sunday's 4-2 victory over the Mets, although Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said diplomatically that nothing has changed.
"It's absolutely the same as it was before and what it has been since the beginning of the season," Kapler said. "That's not to say that we're going to do everything exactly the same way. We're going to read and react to the environment. We said from Spring Training and the beginning of the season that we would use the most appropriate reliever in a situation. Sometimes, that's going to be Hector. Sometimes, that's going to be others late in the game."
Kapler said throughout the offseason, Spring Training and even on Opening Day that he would use his relievers based on matchups, situations, etc. He repeatedly said he did not like specific roles for his relievers. Kapler said he prized flexibility. He said at the Winter Meetings he wanted his relievers to be mentally tough enough to handle that.
"The mindset can and will be one of flexibility, and I am not married to any specific role because that isn't mental toughness," Kapler said in December. "If I can only do one thing, that's not a very mentally tough way to start."
But Kapler's actions spoke louder than his words through the first few weeks of the season. He chose Neris to pitch the ninth inning every time the Phillies had the game on the line. Kapler's actions said he believed Neris was the Phils' best option to close.
Not anymore. Neris struggled and somebody else closed Sunday. So things are not absolutely the same. Things are different. But for the first time, Kapler seems inclined to do what he said he would do, which sounds like a closer-by-committee approach.
If Kapler goes this route, it will be fascinating to see how and if it works. I say that only because in the past, relievers have said they crave a routine. They prefer to know when they will pitch. Floating between the sixth and eighth innings as a late-inning reliever is one thing. Floating between the sixth and ninth innings seems like something else.
Does Kapler ride the hot hand moving forward? For example, if Ramos is on a roll, does he use another pitcher to close just because he prefers that matchup? What if that pitcher blows the game? It invites a lot of second-guessing, not only from fans, but one can bet that players in the clubhouse will be asking themselves the same thing: "Man, Ramos is lights out right now. Why didn't they use him there?"
"I don't know that I'd compare it to any other part of the game," Kapler said Sunday about the use of late-inning relievers. "It's something that interests me and it's a challenge."
That challenge comes with plenty of scrutiny. The good thing for Kapler is that he has several legitimate options to try.
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As we get closer to the July 31 Trade Deadline, do you see a possible reunion with Cole Hamels, if the Rangers are in rebuild mode?
-- Brian W., Lithia, Fla.
The Phillies have not had a left-handed starting pitcher since Morgan on Sept. 28, 2016, so it would be something for them to be in contention in a couple of months and acquire Hamels for the stretch run. He not only would snap the no-lefty streak, but he would provide a jolt to a fan base that is looking for the Phils' first trip to the postseason since Hamels pitched with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt in 2011.
Could it happen? There are plenty of reasons why it will not happen -- Is there a need at the time? Is Hamels pitching well? If so, can the Phillies and Rangers agree on prospects? -- but it is not totally farfetched, either. It's not Mike Trout-to-the-Phils crazy.
Hamels has a limited no-trade clause, but he cannot block a trade to Philadelphia. He is in the final season of his contract, making $22.5 million. There is a $20 million club option ($6 million buyout) for 2019. The Phillies have the payroll flexibility to take on Hamels' contract. So if the Phils need a starter and Hamels is pitching well, it is easy to see how a reunion happens. But trades like this are tough. It's far from a sure thing.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.