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

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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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These ugly Cowboys-looking Phillies hats have Philly fans freaking out

These ugly Cowboys-looking Phillies hats have Philly fans freaking out

Remember back on Phillies opening day 2019 when the team used a logo extremely similar to the Dallas Cowboys' star on the jumbotron and everybody freaked out?

Well, it seems we have a reprise of that situation today but in hat form.

We bring these questionable caps to you today via a reddit post aptly titled, "On no.... please god no..." which shows images of a new Philadelphia Phillies hat made by New Era that is currently being sold.

Philly fans absolutely hate it. Not only does it cloesly resemble the Dallas star, it's also just kind of ugly.

the front:

The hat is part of the New Era Elements Collection where they take something smaller from the team's actual logo and make it the main thing on a hat. The Cincinnati Reds used a mustache which is awesome. The Baltimore Orioles' smily bird looks pretty cool.

And then there's this very bad Phillies hat.

It's pretty obvious they are highlighting the star from the middle of the 'P' which is blown up on the front of the cap and featured relatively normal size on the back of the fitted cap, but it's still way too similar to the Dallas Cowboys' star for most in Philadelphia's liking.

The back:

It's unclear if these hats will ever get anywhere near the actual baseball team. Let's hope not.

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Phillies free-agent targets: Josh Donaldson

Phillies free-agent targets: Josh Donaldson

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson.

The vitals

Donaldson has been one of the game’s premier sluggers the last half-dozen seasons. He’s an above-average defender at third base and an outstanding competitor. He has belted at least 33 homers in four of the last five seasons and led the American League with 123 RBIs in 2015, the year he won the AL MVP for Toronto. He battled injury in 2017 and 2018, signed a one-year, $23 million contract with Atlanta a year ago and went on to prove himself healthy by finishing 11th in the National League MVP voting in 2019. He played 155 games for the Braves and hit .259 with 37 homers, 94 RBIs and a .900 OPS.

Why he fits

At a position loaded with sluggers, Donaldson is still one of the best and the Phillies have a big need. Phillies third basemen ranked 24th in OPS (.725) and batting average (.243) and 22nd in homers (23) among big-league clubs in 2019. Donaldson’s fiery style of play would quickly win him fans in Philadelphia.

Why he doesn’t fit

The injury history, coupled with his age — he turns 34 in December — would be a concern on the long-term deal he is seeking, especially when the Phillies have a young third base prospect, Alec Bohm, scheduled to play at Triple A in 2020. Donaldson is one of three big third basemen on the free-agent market with Anthony Rendon and Mike Moustakas. The Phillies have already shown an interest in Moustakas, whose price tag could still allow the team to pump significant resources into pitching.

The price tag

Donaldson jumped quickly at a one-year deal last year. That won’t happen this year. He is said to be looking for at least three years and you have to figure the average annual value will be in the neighborhood of $25 million. If Donaldson keeps producing like he did in 2019, he’d be worth it.

Scout’s take

“He loves to play. And when he’s healthy, he’s a major difference maker. There’s value in that power. The concern for me would be that it’s a long season and he could fit more in the American League because of the DH.”

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