The news really was not surprising. For more than a month now, Hector Neris has looked a little shell-shocked and a little gun shy. He wasn’t pitching with the confidence he exhibited in 2016 and 2017 when he was a mainstay in the Phillies bullpen.
Neris' struggles came to an unfortunate head when he was tagged for four runs in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game in Milwaukee. The Phillies survived and escaped with a 10-9 win. But Neris' roster spot did not survive. He reported for work at Citizens Bank Park on Monday and was told that he’d been demoted to Triple A Lehigh Valley.
The Phillies hope that Neris can rebuild his confidence and rediscover the splitter that helped him save 26 games last season.
“We would like Hector to clear his head,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It feels like the right time for him to work on his command of his split, specifically. And he just, quite frankly, needed a refresher. Sometimes that refresher, sometimes that recharge can change everything and get him right back on track. It is our expectation that Hector will be back with the Phillies this season, helping and contributing to a playoff run and hopefully beyond.”
To fill Neris’ roster spot, the Phillies selected the contract of left-handed reliever Austin Davis. Davis, 25, was selected by the Phillies in the 12th round of the 2014 draft. He had a 2.70 ERA and a 0.982 WHIP in 26 games at Double A Reading and Triple A Lehigh Valley this season.
Neris, 29, was the Phillies’ primary closer last season. He pitched in 74 games. He pitched in 79 games in 2016.
The workhorse right-hander has struggled mightily this season, pitching to a 6.00 ERA in 30 games.
“We don't have a timetable for this,” Kapler said. “It's much more clearing his head, getting a refresher, shot in the arm, an opportunity to make any adjustments he needs to make in a completely pressure-free environment and come back recharged and ready to roll.”
Neris has had trouble getting his splitter down in the zone.
“His ability to throw that pitch where he wants to throw it in the zone and then to move it out of the zone is what makes Hector Neris special and a guy that's been an effective reliever now for a couple years,” Kapler said. “Without the command of that pitch — again, there's subjectivity to it, this is just what I'm seeing — I think it's very hard for him to be as successful as he wants himself to be and as successful as we think he can be.”
Kapler said Neris took the news like a pro.
“I know his ego was bruised," Kapler said. "It has to be. I'm pretty empathetic to that. It's hard to establish yourself at the major-league level and have to say it to your teammates that this is what occurred. It's hard. This is a really tough thing for Hector to deal with, but I'm very confident this is what's best for him long term. I'm very confident this will give him an opportunity to be right back here with his teammates."