CLEARWATER, Fla. — The first hitter’s bat snapped in half Sunday morning when he grounded Seranthony Dominguez’s sinking two-seam fastball to third base. The second hitter’s bat flew through the air and rattled the batting cage after he struck out so wildly against Dominguez’s slider.

It was just a simulated game on a back field of the Carpenter Complex against minor-leaguers, but it was Dominguez’s first time pitching in a game situation since last June. He missed most of last season with an elbow injury, but was able to avoid Tommy John surgery. And if he stays healthy, he’ll be one of the key relievers in the Phillies’ bullpen.

So how did he feel?

“Pretty good,” Dominguez said. “You saw what happened today.”

Dominguez faced four batters and threw 13 pitches in an inning of work. His fastball, manager Joe Girardi said, was 94 mph, which is three or four ticks below his average. Girardi said he expects relievers to have slower velocity early in camp and still expects Dominguez to be ready on opening day.

“I think it’s the best that I’ve seen him look since throwing bullpens,” Girardi said. "Threw some good sliders. Threw a good changeup. So I was happy with it. I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

Dominguez was electric in 2018, when he rose to be the team’s preferred high-leverage reliever just three months after transitioning in the minors from starter to reliever. He struck out 11.5 batters per nine innings and posted a 2.95 ERA in 58 innings while making hitters look foolish the way he did on Sunday.

But he was one of eight relievers last season to miss time with injury. The Phillies rebuilt their bullpen this winter by inviting six veterans to camp on minor-league deals and re-signing Tommy Hunter for less than $1 million. Instead of signing high-priced arms, the Phillies are betting big on the pitchers like Dominguez to return healthy.

“I feel like I let it go as hard as I can,” Dominguez said. “I don’t know about the [velocity] right now. I just think about being ahead in the count, controlling all my pitches and being ready for the season. I feel really good. I’m so happy about it.”

The Phillies are a little more than three weeks from opening day and appear to have just half of their bullpen solidified. Dominguez, Adam Morgan, Hector Neris, and Jose Alvarez are on track to be in the eight-man bullpen. Hunter, Girardi said, will begin the season on the injured list while Victor Arano is questionable for the opener.

Phillies pitcher Ranger Suarez throws a first-inning warm-up pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in a spring training game at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida on Sunday, March 1, 2020.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies pitcher Ranger Suarez throws a first-inning warm-up pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in a spring training game at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida on Sunday, March 1, 2020.

Ranger Suarez, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez are competing for the final rotation spot and at least one could move to the bullpen. Francisco Liriano, one of the veterans on a minor-league deal, has looked good and could crack the roster. The final three weeks in Clearwater should bring some clarity to who else the Phillies are bringing to Miami when the season begins March 26.

But for now, the race for the final bullpen spots does not seem as important as determining the health of the pitcher who could be the team’s most important reliever. It was just an inning on a Sunday morning on the back fields of Clearwater, but Dominguez did enough to provide the Phillies confidence that he’ll be ready for the season.

“I saw a bat almost thrown over the backstop. I saw a shattered bat,” said Jake Arrieta, who started the simulated game and pitched three innings. “Yeah, it looks like it’s coming out really nice. I saw a couple of really nice changeups. Everybody knows how good his slider is and his fastball. If he’s healthy and feeling really good, we’re going to be in tremendous shape. I don’t necessarily know where he is as far as his progression. But being out here and throwing near max effort is a good sign. It’s nice to see him out there feeling good.”

Extra bases

Ranger Suarez pitched three strong innings in a 3-2 loss to the Orioles, continuing his case to be the team’s fifth starter. He has not allowed an earned run this spring in five innings. ... Josh Harrison homered for the first time this spring and is making a strong push for a bench role. ... Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez will both pitch three innings on Monday night against the Braves in North Port, Fla.