Phillies

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

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"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.

New Phillie Andrew McCutchen is confident he can 'bring the old me back'

New Phillie Andrew McCutchen is confident he can 'bring the old me back'

Andrew McCutchen did some homework before signing with the Phillies.

“I reached out to Shane Victorino to get his insights,” McCutchen said at his introductory news conference Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park.

“He said some great things. He loved it here and he felt I would love it, too.”

McCutchen signed a three-year contract with the Phillies last week. The deal guarantees him $50 million. He will play a corner outfield spot and most likely bat in the fifth or sixth spot in manager Gabe Kapler’s lineup. McCutchen will also wear Kapler’s former No. 22. Kapler wore that number last year and gave it up after a conversation with McCutchen, who wore No. 22 during his nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

McCutchen was a former first-round draft pick of the Pirates. He embraced the Pittsburgh community, did extensive charity work in the area, married a local girl and still lives in that area. He and his wife, Maria, have a young son named, fittingly enough, Steel. ("We wanted a strong name," McCutchen said.) He was thrilled when the Phillies showed interest because it keeps him close to home.

McCutchen had a four-year peak with the Pirates where he finished third, first, third and fifth in National League MVP voting from 2012 to 2015. His averages across the board over that span: .313 batting average, 35 doubles, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, .926 OPS.

Over the last three seasons, McCutchen’s numbers, while still quite good, are not as gaudy. He has averaged .263, 29 doubles, 24 homers and a .802 OPS. During that time, he was traded twice (to the Giants and then the Yankees) and has moved off center field. The Phillies believe that McCutchen, who turned 32 in October, still has big years in front of him. McCutchen is confident that he does.

“I am the type of guy who doesn’t settle for where I'm at,” he said. “I understand the past few years haven’t been what I wanted them to be and they haven’t been what people expected them to be. And I understand people have an expectation because of something you’ve done previously. So when you don’t meet those expectations that people have, you’ll get the backlash, you may get the, ‘You’re not good,’ and, ‘He’s in decline,’ and I get all that.

“But for me, personally, pushing that to the side, I do realize that I can be better and that I’m going to be better. I’m working to make the adjustments needed to be a better player.

“So I’m looking to come in here and bring the old me back. I know it’s there. I don’t accept what I’ve done. I’m looking forward to coming back and showing what I’m capable of doing and doing great things here.”

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Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

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Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

Baseball, basketball, football, no matter the sport, rarely does a star free agent’s decision come down to anything other than money and winning. 

Manny Machado is making visits this week. He was in Chicago with the White Sox on Monday and will also visit Yankee Stadium before coming to Philly for a visit Thursday. 

And while Machado makes the rounds, speculation is rampant that his other suitors are making moves to entice him. 

First, there was the White Sox trading for first baseman Yonder Alonso, whose sister is Machado's wife and who lives in the same complex as him in Florida.

Then, there was the Yankees’ adding outfielder and future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran to their front office. Beltran shares an agent with Machado. 

Let’s be real. Neither development matters. Machado is not going to turn down extra money or extra years under contract because the White Sox now employ his brother-in-law, or because Beltran is now consulting with the Yankees. 

This is Machado’s chance at a historic, life-changing payday. The money, realism of contending and position he’ll play are what matter most. 

If Machado picks the Yankees, it will be because that’s where he’s always wanted to play. If he picks the White Sox, it will be because he’s a crazy person.

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