Phillies swept yet again and Hector Neris just isn't the same guy

Phillies swept yet again and Hector Neris just isn't the same guy


"This is not a happy Father's Day!" a Phillies fan in the Hall of Fame club bellowed after Hector Neris allowed the tying run to score in the ninth inning.

It was a hot and steamy Sunday in South Philadelphia, it took the Phillies and Diamondbacks four hours to play nine innings, and it was yet another disappointing blown lead. So it would be tough to find anyone who disagreed with that fan.

Neris, who's been so much more hittable this season than he was last, entered with a one-run lead and walked the first batter he faced in the ninth: light-hitting, all-glove shortstop Nick Ahmed. Two singles later, the game was tied.

Last season's closer, Jeanmar Gomez, took the loss by allowing a home run in the 10th to Rey Fuentes, the first of his career.

But it was Neris' work that sent these fans home unhappy yet again after a 5-4 loss (see Instant Replay). The Phillies are 22-46 and no National League team has started worse through 68 games since the 2013 Marlins, who lost 100.

"His splitter is hot and cold," manager Pete Mackanin said. "For every two good ones he throws, he throws two bad ones. It's hard to figure out what he's doing."

The disappearing splitter was the pitch that made Neris so effective last season. His opponents hit .158 against it with 69 strikeouts in 2016. 

Entering Sunday's game, the opposition had hit .227 against his splitter this season, and Neris had thrown it for a ball about five percent more often.

"I'm throwing the same, I never change anything," Neris said.

The results, though, have been anything but the same. In 30 appearances, Neris has a 3.68 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Through 30 appearances last season as a setup man, he had a 2.27 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. 

"That closer role is tough," Mackanin said. "It's a different role and some guys are good at it and some aren't. I think Neris has a chance to be a closer but he needs to shore up a few things."

Bullpen meltdowns have plagued the Phillies all season. Gomez failed as the closer, Joaquin Benoit was yanked after his first blown save, and Neris himself has had several missteps. The Phils' most consistent reliever has been Pat Neshek, who's allowed just two runs in 27 innings for a 0.76 ERA. But Neshek, who will likely be here for about a month longer before being traded, feels most comfortable in a setup role.

The result has been a whole lot of frustration for the Phillies, their manager and fans. The Phils continue to lose close games. They've played 27 one-run games — four more than any team in the majors — and are 10-17 in them.

When you're losing so often, your closer doesn't have many opportunities. That's been the case lately for Neris, who has just three saves in the Phillies' last 46 games.

Is rust causing his inconsistency?

"There's a fine line between using a guy too little and too much," Mackanin said. "Last year, he pitched an awful lot and that could be a factor in why he has not been consistent because the opportunities haven't been there. But still, you can't walk that leadoff batter, you've got to go right at him."

"You know, I wait for my opportunity to pitch," Neris said. "It's hard sometimes, three days sitting and then go pitch."

The blown save cost Ben Lively his second big-league win. Lively allowed three runs and two homers in the first inning but rebounded to put up five zeroes the rest of the way. Four starts into his career, he has four quality starts and is 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA. On Sunday, he struck out six after whiffing just five total in his first three starts.

Mackanin again applauded Lively's aggressiveness and toughness on the mound. Lively doesn't have the best stuff on the staff but he's been its most consistent strike-thrower the last month.

That was one positive on Father's Day. So was the Phillies' game plan against D-backs lefty Robbie Ray, who had allowed one run in his last 37 innings entering Sunday. The Phils scored four runs and put 12 men on base against him in 5⅓ innings. Aaron Altherr and Maikel Franco each homered, and the Phillies had a man on base in every inning against him.

"We hit the ball pretty well off one of the better pitchers in the league, Ray," Mackanin said.

But they still lost for the 11th time in 12 games and the 37th time in 48 games. It's hard for any team to come up short this frequently and even harder for the wheels to fall off this quickly in a season.

Get ready for another Philly team to have the first pick in the draft.

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

USA Today Images

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.