Phillies

Phillies think Hector Neris needs time away from the spotlight

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Phillies think Hector Neris needs time away from the spotlight

Right now, the mound at Citizens Bank Park is the last place Hector Neris needs to be. 

Neris was optioned to Triple A Saturday for the second time this month, with Mark Leiter Jr. replacing him on the Phils' 25-man roster. 

It came the day after Neris allowed five runs and three homers in an inning against the Nationals, the worst performance of a season filled with poor ones from the Phils' former closer.

When the Phillies sent Neris down for the first time on June 18, they wanted him to regain confidence in a splitter gone awry. That's always been Neris' weapon, but for much of this season, he's been unable to command it.

After returning to the majors a week later and making two perfect appearances with four strikeouts, disaster struck again for Neris, who Friday against the Nationals was throwing flat fastballs and splitters that lacked downward movement.

"I think last night was a little bit of a shell-shock," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said Saturday.

"There's a lot of attention right now every time Hector goes out there and performs. In Lehigh Valley — I had this happen to me, I was sent down in the middle of a three-year contract — you know that there's not as many people watching. You can practice things that you wouldn't otherwise. You don't care about people looking at an at-bat or for him, an outing. There's just fewer eyeballs, less questions to answer and sometimes that can be a refresher for a player."

The bullpen has not turned out the way the Phillies would have hoped this season. Neris has been demoted twice. Tommy Hunter has a 5.09 ERA. Edubray Ramos and Luis Garcia are on the DL. This team is thanking its lucky stars for Seranthony Dominguez.

In all, the Phils' bullpen ranks 24th in the majors with a 4.42 ERA.

"For this team to be as successful as it can be we need the strong Hector Neris down the stretch," Kapler said. "We felt like the best way to do that was to allow him to work in a really pressure-free environment. 

"We want him to feel dependable more than anything else and it's hard to imagine that right now when he goes out on the mound he feels dependable."

Neshek ready?
Pat Neshek feels strong and ready to go after making his third rehab outing Friday night at Double A Reading and striking out the side.

Neshek, out all season with arm injuries, was in the Phillies' clubhouse Saturday afternoon and was scheduled to meet with Kapler, Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz and trainer Scott Sheridan to determine whether his next outing would come in the majors.

Reading between the lines of what Kapler said, Neshek could be activated from the DL Sunday if the parties are in agreement.

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Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

CLEARWATER, Fla. – As kids, they rode their bikes to each other’s houses. They played Little League and high school ball together.

As adults, they hunted and fished together, always washing it down with a cold beer and a few laughs.

Jay Bruce and Justin Hoose were boys, as the saying goes.

“We started playing together in tee ball,” Bruce said. “And we were always close. I had my first sleepover at his house. Toothpaste in the ear, shaving cream, you name it, we did it. He was the first person I ever ding-dong-ditched with. 

“We did everything together. And regardless of whether you wanted to have fun or wanted to laugh or wanted to have a good time, when he came around you were going to do all of those things.”

The phone call came in December when Bruce was in Idaho picking up a hunting dog. Back home in Beaumont, Texas, his lifelong friend Justin had been hospitalized with a sudden and serious illness. A few days later, he was gone, way too young at the age of 32.

“It floored me,” Bruce said. “We have a tight group of friends from high school and it floored all of us. It still stings. I still can’t believe it. It’s something no one would have imagined.

“I always believed we’d one day be old men talking (crap) on each other and then …

“It’s really made me understand and realize that life is precious and can be taken from you so quickly and to just love the people you’re close with.”

Justin loved the Dallas Cowboys so much that friends were encouraged to wear Cowboys’ colors to his memorial service. A few years ago, Bruce arranged for sideline passes at a Cowboys game.

“We had a blast,” he said.

In 12 seasons as a major league outfielder, Bruce has played in Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York, Seattle and Philadelphia. Justin supported his friend, and rooted like crazy for him, in every one of these towns.

So, as Bruce prepared for spring training this year, he decided to do something for the old friend that supported him so much. He phoned Phillies equipment man Phil Sheridan and asked if he could change his number from 23 to 9. That was the number Justin wore when they were teammates on the baseball team at West Brook High School in Beaumont.

Changing numbers in the big leagues is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it requires league approval. Merchandisers often object because they have existing stock with the player’s number already on it. But everything lined up favorably for Bruce because he’d only been a Phillie for a few months after being traded from Seattle last season.

“I got here in June so there’s not a lot of stuff out there,” he said. “But if there was merchandise out there, I would have been willing to buy it to do this.”

There aren’t many Bruce jerseys with No. 9 on them in the merchandise stores yet. But there is another one out there. Before he left for spring training, Bruce, a husband and father of two young sons, made sure to order one for Joseph Hoose, the 10-year-son of his old pal Justin.

Bruce took batting practice with his new number on his back Tuesday and felt as if his old friend was looking down on him.

“Justin was special,” Jay Bruce said through misty eyes. “He was an incredible person. Wearing this number doesn’t fully honor who he was a person, but it brings a little bit of him with me.”

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Which of these Phillies batting orders do you like better?

Which of these Phillies batting orders do you like better?

The Phillies have 32 spring training games to figure out which infield alignment makes the most sense, who the opening day centerfielder will be and how the batting order shakes out. 

On yesterday’s Phillies Talk podcast, Ricky Bottalico and I discussed how much batting order flexibility the addition of Didi Gregorius gives Joe Girardi. Gregorius can really bat anywhere between first and fifth. 

This was Ricky’s batting order:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
  2. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
  3. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
  4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  5. J.T. Realmuto, C
  6. Jean Segura, 2B
  7. Scott Kingery, 3B
  8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

And here was mine:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
  2. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
  3. J.T. Realmuto, C
  4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  5. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
  6. Jean Segura, 2B
  7. Scott Kingery, 3B
  8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

We will have to wait and see how much the new three-batter rule for relievers affects lineup construction, if at all. It could prompt managers to focus more on splitting up their lefties, which was the idea behind my splitting up Harper and Didi. 

Another option the Phils could go with is McCutchen and Segura at the top, where they were early last season. Forgotten in the totality of Segura’s disappointing first season as a Phillie is that he was hitting .330 in mid-May and his production didn’t crater until right around the time he didn’t hustle out the ball in San Diego, leading to the rundown in which McCutchen tore his ACL. Segura spoke this week about how much that ordeal weighed on him last summer. 

What’s your ideal Phillies batting order?

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