CLEARWATER, Fla. - Seranthony Dominguez made his major league debut five weeks into the season last year and quickly became manager Gabe Kapler's favorite bullpen weapon.
"When Seranthony is at his best, there may not be a better reliever in baseball," Kapler said after Dominguez made his spring debut with three quick outs against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday.
"He has no ceiling. He can be as good as anyone in the league."
Keeping the hard-throwing, 24-year-old right-hander healthy was a priority last season and it remains so this year. Dominguez had a 1.59 ERA in his first 29 games last season but it rose to 4.88 over the next 24. That might have been attributable to fatigue and the Phils want to guard against that this season.
"We've had a player plan meeting with Dominguez and one of the things we want to do is definitely stay in close contact with him," Kapler said. "Anything that crops up for him related to fatigue, we definitely want to back off.
"We did see that giving him a little bit more rest made him more effective so we're going to pay really close attention to that."
It's a balancing act for Kapler. The stakes are higher for the Phillies this year. The rebuild is complete. The talent is better. Bryce Harper might be coming. It's time to win. There might be times, Kapler said, when he uses Dominguez on a night when "maybe he could use a little bit of rest," and other nights when he stays away from Dominguez to preserve the life on his fastball for the long haul of the season.
Kapler admitted it was tempting to use Dominguez every night - wherever the game dictated - when he was pitching well last season. He believes the Phillies are better positioned to be able to back off Dominguez when needed this season. Hector Neris rediscovered his splitter and confidence and finished with a six-week flurry last season. Pat Neshek is healthy. Tommy Hunter and his hard cutter is back. And the addition of David Robertson, one of the most consistent late-game arms in the majors the last eight seasons, will help.
"We've got some pretty good weapons down there," Kapler said. "That could lead to us being less reliant on Seranthony, even if he's at his best."
Nine different relievers saved games for the Phils last season as Kapler mostly used a matchup strategy late in games. He will likely use the same strategy at the outset of this season, but it would not be surprising to see Dominguez, Neris or Robertson eventually get significant save opportunities.
The Phillies lost, 3-2, to the Pirates. Dylan Cozens had a pair of doubles and Matt McBride homered. Drew Anderson starts for the Phillies against the Tigers in Lakeland on Sunday.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.