Phillies

In successful weekend in Miami, Phillies show potential against Marlins

In successful weekend in Miami, Phillies show potential against Marlins

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MIAMI — The Phillies have the worst record in baseball at 52-84. But after taking three out of four games from the playoff-contending Miami Marlins this weekend, it’s possible the Phillies aren’t that bad.

The Phillies continued to show signs of life Sunday, beating Miami, 3-1, at Marlins Park on a two-out, two-run, single by Nick Williams in the top of the 12th inning (see observations).

As for the big picture …

“We’ve had injuries like everybody else,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve had guys coming and going — I think 16 guys who have made their (major-league) debut.

“I feel like this team has a lot of potential.”

To Mackanin’s point, the Phillies are tied for eighth in the majors in fielding percentage, and the organization’s vision no doubt has that ranking improving in the near future with the addition of athletic infield prospects such as J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery.

True, the Phillies are 24th in the majors in ERA (4.72) and 28th in runs scored. The pitching deficiencies have a lot to do with injuries to Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez, a pair of starters the Phillies hope to have ready for 2018.

Aaron Nola leads the staff with 10 wins, and this weekend saw good starts from Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Jake Thompson, the latter of whom struck out a career high seven batters in a one-run, six-inning performance Sunday.

Mark Leiter Jr., who pitches Monday against the Mets in New York, has been impressive so far with a 3.88 ERA.

And here’s the thing: All seven of the aforementioned pitchers are 26 or younger.

The bullpen, meanwhile, looked great Sunday, as four pitchers combined to limit Miami to one hit and no runs over six innings. Hector Neris got his 19th save, but Juan Nicasio, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan also contributed out of the 'pen.

Thompson, who has bounced four times this year between the Phillies and Triple A Lehigh Valley, was grateful things went his way Sunday.

“It’s nice to have one of those days after the things I’ve gone through this year,” Thompson said. “It makes me feel good.”

As for the offense, it struggled considerably Sunday when Rhys Hoskins sat out with a bruised right hand. But if Hoskins and Williams continue to develop, perhaps the Phillies can rise from out of the NL East basement next year.

Williams, who is batting .271, now has 35 RBIs since making his major-league debut June 30, tops among NL rookies during that span.

But he had stranded the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning Sunday and had left runners on the corners with one out in the 10th, unable to get even a sacrifice fly on either occasion.

Finally, with two outs in the top of the 12th, Williams pulled his two-run single to right.

“It’s weird,” Williams said. “I’ve been getting out like crazy (lately). It’s not like I was striking out. I’ve just been hitting balls right at people.”

As long as good contact is being made, though, hits will eventually fall, and that’s what the Phillies are hoping for more of in the future.

Perhaps it’s not entirely crazy to think the Phillies could make a Marlins-type run at .500 in 2018. Miami’s pitching is not much better than Philadelphia’s, ranking 21st in the majors with a 4.63 ERA.

The Marlins are 15th in runs scored and 16th in homers. The Phillies are 27th in homers.

So, to make a significant stride, the Phillies would have to get healthy, improve their pitching and hope that Hoskins and Williams become their version of Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna.

Morgan (3-1), who got the win Sunday with three hitless and scoreless innings, is bullish on the Phillies’ future. And the same can be said about Thompson.

“It’s good to have something to feel good about as we go into the offseason,” Thompson said. “That’s huge.

“Hopefully, we can finish the season strong.”

What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

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If someone told you when Hector Neris was sent to the minors at the end of June that he'd be picking up a save in late September for a Phillies team still trying to win games, would you have believed it?

Neris was an afterthought for much of the summer. After giving up three homers to the Nationals on June 29, he was optioned to the minors to get his splitter, command and confidence back. He had blown three saves and had several epic ninth-inning meltdowns.

It was fair to wonder if Neris would ever again pitch for the Phillies in the late innings of a meaningful game.

But Neris regained the confidence of his manager and the Phils' front office by doing his job at Triple A and dominating in the majors in the month of August. Last month, he pitched nine shutout innings with 20 strikeouts and two walks. His opponents hit .100.

And there Neris was Tuesday night, pitching the ninth inning against the Mets with the Phillies up 5-2 (see first take). His frame was the quickest all night. He struck out Kevin Plawecki and Austin Jackson and got a soft groundout to seal the win.

It was Neris' first save since June 17 — more than three months ago.

"I think he absolutely has overcome the early-season issues," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This is a different pitcher. We were looking at some of the numbers against the Mets and some of them had some success early in the season. But this is not the same guy. So that success they had was not against this Hector Neris. 

"This is a Hector Neris I'm not sure any of us have seen. This is a better version. Since he's been back, this is a better version of him than his best last season or the season prior. My personal opinion, I'm sure it's debatable."

There is so much volatility and turnover in relief performance that Neris could very well excel next season. It's not a lock, but it also wouldn't be the first time a trip to the minors gave a struggling pitcher the jolt he needed.

What stands out about Neris this season is his strikeout rate. He has 70 K's in 44 innings. That's 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings. The only National League pitcher with a higher strikeout rate is Josh Hader. In the AL, it's only Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Mariners stud closer Edwin Diaz.

The main issue earlier in the season was splitter command. Neris couldn't throw his out-pitch for a strike and his opponents started laying off the splitter that dips below the strike zone. He fell behind in counts, had to throw more fastballs and the home runs piled up.

"The changes are that I stopped thinking," Neris said, speaking for the first time since being promoted back to the majors on Aug. 14. 

"Any job is better when you're doing good. I appreciate my teammates here. Everyone talked to me (when I was at Triple A). They were behind me and told me to be positive and said that everyone knew I could come back."

It will be interesting to see how long Neris can make this last. Kapler has utilized many different closers this season — one night it's Seranthony Dominguez, the next it's Tommy Hunter, with a little Pat Neshek sprinkled in and now Neris looks like an option.

You can add him to the list of cost-controlled Phillies looking to impress and give himself an inside track to an opening day roster spot in 2019.

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Phillies 5, Mets 2: Aaron Nola zeroing in on history

Phillies 5, Mets 2: Aaron Nola zeroing in on history

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After five futile innings against left-hander Steven Matz, the Phillies finally broke out for five runs in the sixth inning Tuesday against the Mets' bullpen.

Using extra men paid off for Gabe Kapler in the 5-2 win. A pinch-hit RBI single from Wilson Ramos and a pinch-hit RBI double from Justin Bour preceded Jorge Alfaro's three-run home run.

The moves resulted in J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery leaving midway through the game, but the Phillies are desperate for runs and wins. Kapler will continue to employ "every marginal advantage," as he puts it.

Some fans sneer at what they consider over-managing, but there's not much of a debate that Ramos is a better hitter than Crawford and Bour is a better hitter than Kingery. If Crawford and Kingery would have made outs to end that inning, many would be asking, "Why not go to Ramos or Bour there?"

Aaron Nola started but did not get a decision. He was pulled with two outs in the sixth as his pitch count rose above triple-digits.

Carlos Santana reached base all four times with two singles and two walks. He's up to .234/.358/.426 on the season.

The Phillies are 77-73. With the Braves' 8-1 loss to the Cardinals, the Phillies are 5½ games back in the NL East.

Nola chasing history

The month of September has reminded us that Nola is, indeed, human.

For the third time in four starts this month, Nola couldn't make it out of the sixth inning. He didn't pitch poorly but wasn't at his best, allowing two runs to the Mets over 5⅔ innings with nine strikeouts.

The Phils are 5-1 against the Mets this season when Nola starts and 2-10 when anyone else does.

Nola is up to 199⅓ innings on the season. His opponents are hitting .201. No Phillies pitcher in more than 100 years has pitched at least 200 innings in a season and held his opponents under .200.

"It speaks to durability," Kapler said. "Look, if you're the best option for your team, more times than not, the manager is going to give you the opportunity to take down an additional inning.

"Almost always, Nola feels like the best option to get the next three hitters out. Piling up 200 innings is a huge accomplishment."

Nola's next start, No. 32, will be this Sunday in Atlanta. He'll face the Braves in both of his remaining starts.

Hurt by his counterpart

Nola was taken deep by opposing pitcher Steven Matz, who homered for the second consecutive start.

It was the first home run Nola has allowed to a pitcher since his MLB debut back on July 21, 2015 against Tampa Bay's Nate Karns.

The homer came after Nola had retired seven of the first eight hitters, five via the punchout. It was the eighth homer Nola has allowed in his last four starts after giving up just eight in his previous 27 starts.

Matz walked five but shut the Phillies out over five innings.

Up next

The last Phillies-Mets game of 2018 is Wednesday evening at 6:05.

Zach Eflin (10-7, 4.26) opposes Noah Syndergaard (12-3, 3.26).

The Phillies have hit .348 vs. Syndergaard in three games this season. He has a 5.51 ERA against them.

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