At his introductory press conference in October of 2019, Joe Girardi talked about how the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen needed to stay healthier than it had the previous season if the team hoped to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
It was a broad statement by Girardi, the Phillies bullpen as a whole had been decimated by injuries during a disappointing 81-81 season that ultimately cost Gabe Kapler his job.
But specifically, Girardi was referring to Seranthony Domínguez. Girardi wouldn’t get a healthy Domínguez in either of his first two seasons with the Phillies, a contributing factor to the team having league-worst bullpens in back-to-back seasons.
But as the Phillies’ skipper enters a contract year, Domínguez is healthy after a nearly three-year journey to get back to being able to consistently pitch high-leverage innings. And while he’s happy from a professional perspective, you could sense how good Girardi feels for the human when he spoke about it before Monday’s Grapefruit League matchup against the New York Yankees.
“Fantastic,” Girardi said Monday morning at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa when asked how he feels as Domínguez prepares to enter the 2022 season with a clean bill of health. “He’s been through a lot. It’s really been since 2019 in June, right? I mean, he’s persevered, he’s stayed at it. I give [assistant athletic trainer] Joe Rauch a lot of credit for all the work that he put in with him. Seranthony looks great, it’s a great story.”
Domínguez burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2018, posting a 2.95 ERA, 2.85 FIP and a 1.3 fWAR in 53 games for the Phillies. With all due respect to Ryan Madson and Ken Giles, Domínguez looked the part of someone who had a chance to be the greatest homegrown relief pitcher in Phillies history.
And he still may be, but there’s been a hell of a detour for Domínguez since 2018.
Domínguez was pulled from an appearance in San Diego on June 5, 2018 — the same series Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL during — with an initial fear that he would need Tommy John surgery. Instead, Domínguez initially avoided the procedure, instead receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection and opting for rehab.
While Domínguez didn’t return the rest of the 2019 season, the decision not to undergo Tommy John surgery initially looked like it would pay off. He ended up having a normal offseason ahead of the 2020 season, and there was quite a bit of excitement surrounding his return as Spring Training opened and he set a goal of being ready to pitch on Opening Day.
All the anticipation quickly subsided when Domínguez suffered a setback in his first Spring Training appearance of 2020, with the righty eventually being recommended for Tommy John surgery in March of 2020.
Of course, March of 2020 changed everyone’s life, with the COVID-19 pandemic suspending baseball and much of the world indefinitely. Domínguez returned to his native country, the Dominican Republic. He was unable to return to the United States to receive a second opinion on whether he should indeed undergo a career-altering surgery.
At the time, we wrote that Domínguez could very well miss parts of three seasons by the time he underwent Tommy John surgery, completed the recovery process and was ready to return to the mound at the Major League level. That’e exactly what happened, as Domínguez eventually went under the knife on July 30, 2020. He did return to make one appearance in Miami during the final weekend of the 2021 season, but for all intents and purposes, it was another lost season for Domínguez, at least as far as being able to reach his ceiling at the Major League level is concerned.
Years after he initially was injured, Domínguez finally appears to be back to 100%. He has eight strikeouts in four relief appearances, with his velocity ticking closer to the 97.5 mph average that he had in 2019 before his injury. Domínguez may finally be walking out of the other side of the tunnel, back into the spotlight of high-leverage situations at Citizens Bank Park.
Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies signed Corey Knebel, Jeurys Familia and Brad Hand this offseason, and that will be the back-end of their bullpen to open the 2022 season. But even if the plan isn’t to immediately throw Domínguez back into the fire, there certainly appears to be a belief that the man a young Jack Fritz once dubbed “the fireman” is capable of getting back to pitching at that level.
“No, I think you probably ease him in a little bit,” Girardi said. “But, let’s just say that Opening Day you use [Jeurys] Familia and [Brad] Hand early on and you probably don’t want to throw them back to back. Guess what? I ain’t afraid to use Seranthony.”
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