PHOENIX — For a few minutes Tuesday, as Phillies relievers long-tossed and went through the rest of their pregame drills, Seranthony Dominguez stood in right field and got a few pointers from one of the most successful closers in franchise history.
To suggest that Brad Lidge was here to help save Dominguez’s season was overstating things. But the Phillies’ 2008 World Series hero did share some thoughts that might help Dominguez rebound quickly from blown saves in back-to-back games and make it through the rest of his rookie season — and his first season as a reliever at any level of professional baseball.
“What he’s done, it’s really impressive to me,” said Lidge, who is assisting the Phillies’ coaching staff for the three-game series in Arizona. “It speaks to his stuff. But also, it’s impressive that he’s able to go out there and take the ball and be able to come back in and quickly understand the idea of turning the page on a bad outing.”
Dominguez hasn’t had many of those. But he gave up a game-tying home run to Miami Marlins first baseman Justin Bour in the seventh inning Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, then allowed two runs in the bottom of the ninth Monday in an eventual 14-inning, 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. After yielding six runs in his first 29 appearances after getting called up in early May, he has allowed five runs in his last six outings.
If Dominguez is tiring, it wouldn’t be a surprise. He was a starter in the minor leagues until the Phillies turned him into a reliever before this season. Before this season, he hadn’t pitched above A-ball. But nearly all of his appearances have come in high-leverage, high-stress situations, and he’s about to pitch beyond Labor Day for the first time in his career.
After Monday night’s game, Dominguez said the most experienced relievers in the Phillies’ bullpen have advised him to “save my bullets” by scaling back how much he throws between outings. Lidge shared a similar secret to getting through a long season.
“You’ve got to figure out what you can do when you’re doing your work pregame on the field that limits the amount of reps you have to have but gets you feeling like you will be locked in [to pitch] that night,” Lidge said. “For me, maybe earlier in the season I’d throw seven or eight pitches after long-toss. In August, I’d throw three.”
The Phillies are studying Dominguez’s usage pattern, too. Manager Gabe Kapler noted that Dominguez has been more effective when he has at least one day off between outings. In the second of back-to-back games, Dominguez has a 9.82 ERA and eight walks in 7 1/3 innings. When he has at least one day of rest, he has a 0.82 ERA and five walks in 33 innings.
“That’s something that we will be very sensitive and responsive to,” Kapler said. “He’s not just learning his body. He’s learning a new role, he’s learning a new league, and every time he goes out there, he’s having this unique, brand new experience. And we’ve asked a lot of him — and we’re going to continue to ask a lot of him. But I think that’s what he wants and that’s what the Phillies want, too.”
In the meantime, it helps to be able to bend Lidge’s ear. And in looking back to Monday night, Lidge told Dominguez to trust his fastball and not overthink things.
Dominguez began the bottom of the ninth inning by throwing back-to-back fastballs to Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who grounded out. After starting David Peralta with a fastball for a called strike, he turned to his slider and Peralta homered to right-center field.
“In a 2-0 ball game, he’s thrown three fastballs and they’ve done nothing with it. Keep going to it,” Lidge said. “He was saying, ‘I need to show something different.’ Well, guess what. Your fastball’s nasty. You don’t need to show anything different until they prove they can hit it. It’s a learning curve, but this is all good for him.”
>> READ MORE: Kapler defends defensive substitutions in Monday’s loss
Failing every now and then will be good for Dominguez, too, according to Lidge.
After Monday night’s game, Dominguez said he felt especially bad that he was unable to hold the lead because starter Jake Arrieta shut out the Diamondbacks for eight innings. Lidge said Dominguez, like any young reliever, must learn to live with those disappointments and not let them carry over into his next outing.
“For a young guy, the most difficult thing is realizing that you’re not letting anybody down,” Lidge said. “You don’t owe anybody an apology. You’re going out there trying as hard as you can. That’s good enough, and everybody in here is going to love you the next day, regardless.”
It’s all part of the process for Dominguez, an indispensable piece of this unlikely Phillies playoff run.