LOS ANGELES ― Dodgers pitcher Evan Phillips has three saves in his career. Each one has been a different adventure.
Phillips described the first save as a “technicality.” On Aug. 13, 2021, pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays, the right-hander entered a game in Minnesota in the seventh inning. The Rays were leading 10-3. Phillips allowed one run over the final three innings ― technically a save, minus all the adrenaline and entrance music and suspense.
That was Phillips’ only major league game as a Ray. He was designated for assignment the next day.
The Dodgers quickly claimed Phillips with the intention of deploying him similarly, as a multi-inning reliever taking on a variety of roles. He did not record another save until last month, a come-from-behind win in St. Louis on July 13, in which Craig Kimbrel pitched the eighth and Phillips the ninth.
Then on Friday, Phillips was anointed the team’s temporary closer midway through a game in which Kimbrel was deemed unavailable. It was a home game, so Phillips’ hand-picked Audioslave track blasted through the Dodger Stadium speakers as he jogged out.
Thanks to a leaping catch by Trayce Thompson, Phillips closed out a 2-1 win over the Miami Marlins by pitching a perfect ninth inning ― as traditional as traditional saves go.
“I try not to make it any different,” Phillips said of the traditional save situation. “That comes into play in the way I prepare, the way I game plan for the hitters I’m going to face. I try not to make any more of it if it’s the ninth inning versus any other situation. That’s really helped me in any outing.”
Phillips has been the most reliable member of the bullpen. His 1.31 earned-run average is the lowest among Dodger pitchers with at least 30 appearances. His ratio of 4.67 strikeouts for every walk is second only to David Price. His 2.21 FIP is the lowest. Most importantly, he hasn’t missed any time due to injuries.
Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Daniel Hudson and Yency Almonte are all currently on the injured list, which somewhat has thrown the late innings into flux.
Kimbrel, the career saves leader among active pitchers, is having a down year. His 4.46 earned-run average is the second-highest among Dodger relievers. His four blown saves and five losses are the most on the team.
While some fans have called for Phillips to replace Kimbrel as closer, the two men are entrenched in the roles they’re most familiar with. That counts. It took several key injuries and a heavy workload for Kimbrel this week ― three appearances in six days prior to Friday ― just for Phillips to earn a traditional save opportunity.
For now, Phillips has not only established his versatility in a variety of game situations, he’s proven adept in a variety of save situations.
“Whether or not I recognize it as a save situation, it’s much different coming in to pitch in that kind of inning than a low-leverage three-inning save,” Phillips said. “It’s a totally different feel when it’s any kind of high-leverage situation.”
Graterol is expected to be activated from the injured list Monday after making his final rehab appearance with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. Meanwhile, Treinen’s rehab assignment in Oklahoma City is expected to continue.
Victor Gonzalez (shoulder) made his first rehab appearance with Oklahoma City on Saturday. The left-hander threw a scoreless seventh inning while allowing one hit, a double, against the Sugar Land Space Cowboys. He hasn’t appeared in a major league game since August of last year due to injuries.
Right-hander Danny Duffy (flexor) touched 93 mph in an Arizona Complex League game. Manager Dave Roberts misspoke days ago when he said Duffy’s season was likely over. Saturday, Roberts admitted he overstated the nature of Duffy’s arm soreness.
Right-hander Tommy Kahnle (elbow) will throw a simulated game Sunday in Arizona, Roberts said, noting his fastball is touching 97 mph.
The Dodgers designated Reyes Moronta for assignment in order to activate Dustin May from the 60-day injured list. Moronta made 22 appearances and posted a 4.18 ERA. … Right-hander Pedro Baez was released from his minor league contract, ending his second tour of duty with the Dodgers. The 34-year-old right-hander allowed five runs without recording an out Friday in his fourth Triple-A appearance since the Dodgers re-signed him in May. … Clayton Kershaw felt only normal soreness after throwing his first bullpen Friday, Roberts said.
Miami (RHP Sandy Alcantara, 11-5, 1.92 ERA) at Dodgers (RHP Ryan Pepiot, 1-0, 4.26 ERA), Sunday, 1:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM