Phillies

Hector Neris heads to Triple A to clear head, find splitter

Hector Neris heads to Triple A to clear head, find splitter

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."

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Hector Neris proves prophetic, Phillies overcome plethora of adversity for best win of season

Hector Neris proves prophetic, Phillies overcome plethora of adversity for best win of season

ATLANTA — About 24 hours before the Phillies pulled off a come-from-behind win, their best of the season, Hector Neris stood in the visiting clubhouse at SunTrust Park and ended his interview by saying, "Tomorrow ... I got it tomorrow, for sure."

He proved prophetic, displaying the kind of short memory a closer needs, retiring the Braves in order in the bottom of the ninth after Cesar Hernandez's game-winning two-run single in the top half.

"You know it, papi," a beaming Neris said after picking himself and his teammates up. "I'm ready for that every day. Today I got the opportunity and I had to get it. Back to the rhythm again, back to a win. Protect the team."

The Phillies' 6-5 win knotted this important divisional series at a game apiece and did a good job of ridding the sour taste from their mouths after Friday's meltdown. In a way, it served as a reset button for the series, which will be determined Sunday afternoon.

This was a huge W in multiple ways. First off, the Phillies just don't have many victories like this in 2019. They were 1-23 when trailing after eight innings, have no walk-off wins and have watched their opponent walk it off five times. Saturday obviously was not a walk-off win but it was just as sweet. Momentum was gained by the Phillies and derailed for the Braves.

If you do believe in momentum in baseball, the Braves sure had it. They had won eight games in a row and have had the Phillies' number in Atlanta, beating them seven straight times at SunTrust Park. But Hernandez's big hit, which came after Scott Kingery singled to begin the ninth and Sean Rodriguez forced an errant throw on a sacrifice bunt, changed that.

"That was a really important win for our team. Wow. What a resilient group of guys," manager Gabe Kapler said. "There's a lot that went on in today's game that could have pushed us to not give the kind of effort that we gave. Really impressive, heartfelt win by our club, as a group, as a unit, as a team."

The Phillies could have folded after losing an early lead and losing two more starters to injuries. Jay Bruce left the game in the fourth inning with hamstring tightness and J.T. Realmuto exited an inning later after taking a foul ball to the groin. 

Bruce actually first felt the hamstring tightness three or four days ago but hid it because he didn't think it was too serious. When he couldn't score from first base on Kingery's two-run double in the third inning, he knew the hamstring was the reason why and he finally admitted the injury to the Phillies' coaching staff. Bruce will not play Sunday but doesn't think the hammy will sideline him for more than a couple days.

Realmuto felt nausea after taking a shot to the jewels. There was no immediate update on his condition. He has played a ton, starting every game in June and catching 105 straight innings before exiting Saturday's game. The Phillies had planned an off-day for him in the upcoming Nationals series but may have to move that up to Sunday.

The Phillies overcame the injuries and another rough start from Aaron Nola, who lasted just 4⅓ innings and again struggled with control. In the bigger picture, Nola's funk is a concern. He has a 4.89 ERA, has allowed 13 homers in 110 fewer innings than it took last season, and just isn't getting ahead of hitters. 

Nola was emphatic saying that his body and arm feel good. He is not hurt. He just isn't in a good place from a control standpoint. He needs to figure it out for this team to get where it wants to go, but the comeback win was at least some solace for him.

"To end their eight-game winning streak, that really mattered," Nola said. "It's a tough one for me again but to come out with a win like this is always good."

The Phillies still have not named a starter for Sunday's game. There are a few different options (see story). If they can find a way to pull out the finale, they'll be 5-1 against the Braves and just a half-game back in the division, even after Atlanta won 22 of its last 32.

"It was huge to win tonight because we want to keep people motivated and stay on top of our stuff," Hernandez said.

"Oh my gosh, what an answer," Bruce added. "That was awesome. Everything was kind of falling their way. Huge win to answer back like that. Kind of shows you what our team is capable of doing."

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Phillies 6, Braves 5: Scott Kingery keys uplifting win after 2 injuries and short start from Aaron Nola

Phillies 6, Braves 5: Scott Kingery keys uplifting win after 2 injuries and short start from Aaron Nola

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — What was shaping up to be a second straight painful loss for the Phillies was instead an invigorating win.

After they lost two starters to injury (Jay Bruce, J.T. Realmuto) and watched their ace struggle through just 4⅓ innings, the Phillies fought back in the top of the ninth to come back and beat the Braves, 6-5. 

Scott Kingery, the star of the night for the Phillies, keyed the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single. He went 3 for 3 with a two-run double and a walk and is hitting .347 on the season with a 1.058 OPS.

Braves closer Luke Jackson threw wide of first base on Sean Rodriguez's sacrifice bunt after Kingery began the ninth with a single. Cesar Hernandez followed with the decisive two-run single, and Hector Neris pitched a clean ninth for the save 24 hours after a nightmarish outing.

This was a big-time win. The Braves had won eight straight games and had all the momentum after walking the Phillies off Friday and coming back from an early deficit again Saturday. The Phillies made six straight outs in the seventh and eighth innings and looked like a defeated team.

Instead, they evened the series and go for the improbable series win tomorrow afternoon. At 39-31, the Phils are 1½ games behind the Braves in the NL East. The vibe of this series turned in a hurry.

What is up with Nola?

Walks, home runs, an extremely deliberate pace ... forget 2018, Nola right now isn't even the guy he was in 2017, when he had a mid-3.00s ERA.

Nola has a 4.89 ERA and has already allowed as many home runs in 15 starts as he allowed in 29 starts last season. He has the second-slowest pace in between pitches in all of baseball to Yu Darvish, and his control has been erratic. Nola has walked 4.0 batters per nine innings this season. Prior to this year, he walked 2.5 per nine.

Nola's season has had a very 2009 Cole Hamels vibe to it. 

The Phillies' only reliable starting pitcher this season has been Zach Eflin. That is a problem. This team might not be able to wait until mid- or late-July to add a difference-making starting pitcher.

More injuries

Bruce left the game in the fourth inning with left hamstring tightness, which likely occurred during his sprint around the bases on Kingery's two-run double. Bruce was called out at the plate on the play.

Jean Segura, Kingery and Odubel Herrera have all spent time on the IL this season with hamstring injuries.

In total, 15 different Phillies have been on the injured list this season. Somehow, six teams have had more players on the IL and 12 teams have had more player games lost to injury than the Phillies.

Bruce's injury could expedite Roman Quinn's return to the majors. Quinn was held out of a rehab game Saturday night as a precautionary measure after he was hit by a pitch on the shoulder Friday (see story).

In the fifth inning, Realmuto took a foul ball to the groin and was on the ground for close to five minutes. He was in visible pain the rest of the frame and exited an inning later.

The drop-off from Realmuto to Andrew Knapp is massive. Hopefully for the Phillies, this was just a one-night thing.

Scary moment

Braves lefty Sean Newcomb was removed from the game in the top of the third after being struck on the neck by a Realmuto line drive that left the bat at 102 mph.

Here's footage of the scary play.

Up next

The series concludes tomorrow afternoon at 1:20. The Phillies have not yet named a starter but will face tough righty Mike Foltynewicz, who is off to a slow start this season (1-5, 6.02).

More on the Phillies' options for Sunday's start here

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