Phillies' bullpen problems mount as Seranthony Dominguez could face elbow surgery

Jim Salisbury
NBC Sports Philadelphia

Phillies' bullpen problems mount as Seranthony Dominguez could face elbow surgery originally appeared on nbcsportsphiladelphia.com

The Phillies reported back to work on Friday and were greeted by some bad news.

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Reliever Seranthony Dominguez' elbow injury is more serious than initially thought.

Depending on what a second medical opinion finds, he could be out for the remainder of the season and part of next.

General manager Matt Klentak disclosed that Dominguez had "damage" to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Yes, that's the bad one, the one that if damaged significantly enough requires reconstructive (Tommy John) surgery and more than a year of rehab time.

"Based on the second opinion, we'll come up with a treatment plan and one of the options may be Tommy John surgery, we just don't know," Klentak said.

It was not immediately known who would provide the second opinion or when it would come.

Dominguez was firing 98-mph fastballs in San Diego on Tuesday night. The next day, he threw 14 pitches and walked off the mound with pain in his elbow. He had an MRI back in Philadelphia on Thursday and the results were distressing.

"Ser's bummed. We're bummed," manager Gabe Kapler said. "It's a challenging time."

The Phillies' bullpen has been hit extremely hard by injuries. Dominguez becomes the seventh reliever currently on the injured list,  joining Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, Pat Neshek, David Robertson, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos. Arano is likely out for the season. Hunter and Ramos could be back by the end of the month. Morgan is just starting to throw.

What gives with all of these injuries?

"We're definitely digging into it," Klentak said. "I wish I had a good answer for you or a direct answer.

"A couple of weeks ago when we were in Chicago, our manager was criticized for being too conservative with the bullpen. I do think, in large part, Kap often operates to try to protect the guys and not to overuse them and overwork them to the point of, in the Chicago series, it became a big topic of conversation. 

"As I look back at the last year and a half of our season and looking at the bullpen, it's hard to say that we've overworked anybody or abused anybody. Kap's been really careful about back-to-backs and not dry-humping guys in the bullpen. Their innings totals and their appearance totals are not that crazy at all, especially relative to the rest of the league. That's the first place you look just to see, is there something we could do differently? We don't see it there. 

"The next place you look is in the training room and these work habits and offseason programs and things like that. We've not been able to identify anything that is markedly different or worse than what we've done in prior years."

Klentak shifted gears as he continued to talk about a possible cause for the epidemic of injuries that has hit the bullpen.

"This is not a factual assessment, more my own observation," he said. "As the power in the game continues to escalate, and by power I mean hitters but also what the pitchers need to do to combat the power at the plate, I think it stands to reason that is putting more stress on players' arms. They're throwing harder, they're throwing more breaking balls – this is not the Phillies in particular, but more kind of a league-wide trend - and it's possible that that is contributing to more injuries.

"We also have to leave open the possibility that it's some combination of those things, and also maybe a bunch of (stuff) happened to us at once and it was bad luck. I'm not saying that it is bad luck, but it's certainly possible.

"I can assure you and I can assure Phillies fans that we're looking into it and if there's anything we can do to adjust that we will do that. But right now we have not found the exact reason."

Klentak said the injury to Dominguez was another opportunity for members of the current bullpen to "step up." Vince Velasquez could find himself pitching in the eighth inning. In the coming weeks, the Phils will get some of their wounded back. And though he would not admit it, Klentak will surely look for bullpen upgrades outside the organization.

One such potential upgrade - All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel - signed with the Cubs the day Dominguez injured his elbow.

The Phillies had some interest in Kimbrel, but not at the three years, $43 million he got from the Cubs.

Would the Phillies have been more aggressive trying to get Kimbrel if Dominguez' injury had occurred, say, a week earlier?

"Probably not," Klentak said. "I don't know. We obviously didn't find out (the severity of Dominguez' injury) until a little while ago.

"I'm not supposed to talk about other teams' players so I'll try to make this more broad than talking about that player. In the last couple years, we've signed several veteran relievers to two-year deals, but multi-year deals nonetheless. Each of them has spent time on the IL. There have been reasons why we signed those guys to try to bolster the bullpen and I'm not saying we'd never do it again, but I do think we need to be mindful of the realities of relief pitcher health, especially multi-year commitments to veteran guys. The track record is not great."

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