Hector Neris still in Phillies' late-inning plans after all

USA Today Images

Hector Neris still in Phillies' late-inning plans after all

Update: Several hours after this post went up, Hector Neris allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Phillies led by five.

Gabe Kapler's call Saturday to Hector Neris in the ninth inning of a 4-1 game in Milwaukee was a big surprise — and as with his decision to pinch-hit for a cruising Zach Eflin in the top of the sixth, he evaded criticism only because the moves worked.

We'd gotten used to seeing Neris only in games that had already been decided. Prior to Saturday, here were his last six outings:

• 8th inning, Phillies up by 5

• 8th inning, Phillies down by 6

• 7th inning, Phillies down by 10

• 8th inning, Phillies down by 4

• 7th inning, Phillies down by 3

• 8th inning, Phillies up by 4

When Seranthony Dominguez entered in the eighth inning after Tommy Hunter and Edubray Ramos, it looked like the Phillies were again set to use Dominguez for a six-out save. But he threw 17 pitches and put two men on base in the eighth, so there was some stress. You can't use a guy for two innings every time.

Here's how rare it would have been for Dominguez to pick up another two-out save there: If he had, he'd have become only the third pitcher in the last eight seasons to record three two-inning saves in a year (2018 Josh Hader, 2017 Raisel Iglesias).

But back to Neris. This was good timing for Kapler to give him a jolt of confidence. It was a three-run lead so technically a save situation, but Neris had breathing room. It was against the middle of the Brewers' order: Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun.

In eight pitches, Neris finished the job. It was one of the most efficient outings of his career.

"We've eased (Neris) back into the fire," Kapler told reporters after the game. "[We pitched him] in low-leverage situations quite a bit and really paid very close attention to how his stuff was moving. And we've seen a couple of games that have been good. One that was lights-out and that kinda looked like we could throw him back into [a high-leverage] situation."

Neris is one of those players Phillies fans just seem to have little patience for, probably because he's been around here during some lean years and they've seen him blow leads. The full scope of Neris is worth remembering, though. Neris is 36 for 42 in save opportunities the last two seasons, a success rate of 86 percent. Not the best, but far from the worst. 

Since 2016, he has a 3.08 ERA with 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Of his 182 appearances over that span, 75 percent have been scoreless. (Numbers prior to Sunday.)

He's done the job in the past and hasn't simply forgotten how to get outs in the major leagues. Most relievers endure rough periods, and the Phillies are still hoping to be able to use Neris in big spots moving forward.

With how good Ramos and Dominguez have been, the Phillies' bullpen could turn into the strength they thought it would be if Neris and Tommy Hunter can turn their seasons around and Pat Neshek can make it back from season-long arm problems.

"The guy that Hector has been in the past, we know is still in there," Kapler said. "It didn't disappear. ... The confidence that we have in guys like Rhys Hoskins and in Scott Kingery, it doesn't go away because they're struggling a little bit. And that's true for our pitchers too. They struggle a little bit, we try to look for spots to pop 'em again and get that confidence back and get them rolling."

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Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Since his time in Philadelphia began just shy of one year ago, Bryce Harper has embraced the city with open arms from the moment he arrived.

One thing that Harper is known for, outside of crushing dingers and having a monster arm in right field, is his vast headband collection that was seen throughout the season.

It’s something that he carried over from his time in Washington, but let’s be honest — the ones that he has worn here have been way cooler.

Who can forget the iconic Phanatic one, that had just about every fan running to the closest team store or taking to their phones to place an order for their own.

(Image credit: USA Today Images)

Harper truly took a liking to the Phanatic (who wouldn’t?) and even embraced the mascot via socks and cleats. Notice the details in the laces? They’re fuzzy. Seriously, who designed those? Give that person a raise.

(Credit for Images: USA Today Images)

And let’s just hope the whole Phanatic ordeal gets settled before the start of the season, so Harper can continue repping his biggest supporter.

Let’s get back to the main reason for this post — headbands.

There were many other ways he sported his new team last season, including a headband in army green, one to match the Phillies’ home uniforms and even one with stars.

(Credit for images: USA Today Images)

His latest one though, looks to be a custom design from It’s personalized with Harper’s number but more importantly, his son’s name, Krew.

(Image credit: John Clark/Twitter)

We’re not sure how Harper is going to top last year’s lineup … but he’s off to a pretty great start.

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2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The battle for the Phillies' fifth starter's job will get off to a quick start.

Manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday announced his starting pitchers for the first three Grapefruit League games.

Nick Pivetta will start the exhibition opener against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday in Lakeland.

Presumed opening day starter Aaron Nola will get the ball Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Clearwater.

Vince Velasquez will get the nod Monday against the Baltimore Orioles in Clearwater.

Girardi was not ready to announce any other pitching plans.

On paper, the top four spots in the Phillies' rotation appear set with Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. Pivetta and Velasquez will vie for the fifth spot with pitchers like Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin and prospect Damon Jones also getting a look.

"I think it's important that all these guys that are competing for the last spots get a ton of looks and we can afford to do that," Girardi said. "We have a number of games, we have split-squad games. We'll look at people. I think it's important that we do that, that we're fair to everyone because it's fair to the team that way.

"As we go forward, each start gets a little bit more important, but I think it's not fair to evaluate start 1 and start 2. That's the buildup stage."

Girardi, his staff and the front office will use a couple of factors in picking a fifth starter. Obviously, there is performance in spring training. In addition, Girardi said, the team will consider who might profile best in the bullpen. Suarez opened eyes in the bullpen last year. Velasquez and Pivetta both spent time in the rotation and the bullpen last year. One of them appears to be ticketed for the rotation and the other for the bullpen.

"The bottom line is we're going to want our 13 best pitchers to go with us and we have to kind of put that puzzle together," Girardi said.

New pitching coach Bryan Price has mentioned that a starter transitioning to the bullpen can benefit from some adjustment time because relieving is "a learned craft." In a perfect world, the Phils will identify who starts and who goes to the bullpen before the Grapefruit League schedule ends so the adjustment period can commence.

"We would like to do that," Girardi said. "That doesn't mean it will happen. If they make our job really difficult, it might get drawn out longer. And you can make it difficult two different ways — they're all pitching good or they're all scuffling."

Girardi hopes they're all pitching good.

In Price's view, a starter transitioning to the bullpen should not view the move as a slight.

"There's an emotional hurdle of not starting that has to be cleared," he said. "Some guys look at it as a demotion when it can really be something that stimulates a career and greatly impact the ballclub."

No team gets through a season with five starters. So today's reliever might be tomorrow's starter. 

"Just because we pick a fifth starter at the end of March doesn't mean things couldn't change," Girardi said.

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