Phillies

What happens now with J.P. Crawford back from DL?

What happens now with J.P. Crawford back from DL?

The Phillies activated J.P. Crawford from the 10-day DL Wednesday, optioning Mitch Walding to Triple A to make room.

It will be interesting to see how often Crawford starts over the next couple weeks. He did not play well in 21 games before his forearm injury, batting .188 with five extra-base hits and four walks in 71 plate appearances.

His defense was spotty as well. Crawford committed five errors, all on throws. Scott Kingery has been playing shortstop everyday with Crawford out and he’s committed just one error in 246 chances.

An error total does not paint a complete picture, but Crawford will have to show more consistency in the field to stick, unless his bat heats up. Kingery, meanwhile, has gotten better and better defensively at the infield’s most important position.

Kingery has not been much of an offensive threat lately either, though. He’s hitting .215/.260/.323 and has gone 160 plate appearances without a homer.

Despite Crawford's return, Kingery still gets the start at shortstop and bats third Wednesday night.

The Phillies just haven’t gotten enough out of the shortstop position this season. Phils shortstops rank 27th in the majors in batting average (.225) and on-base percentage (.276).

As long as that remains the case, Manny Machado’s name will be brought up in this city on a daily basis.

What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

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If someone told you when Hector Neris was sent to the minors at the end of June that he'd be picking up a save in late September for a Phillies team still trying to win games, would you have believed it?

Neris was an afterthought for much of the summer. After giving up three homers to the Nationals on June 29, he was optioned to the minors to get his splitter, command and confidence back. He had blown three saves and had several epic ninth-inning meltdowns.

It was fair to wonder if Neris would ever again pitch for the Phillies in the late innings of a meaningful game.

But Neris regained the confidence of his manager and the Phils' front office by doing his job at Triple A and dominating in the majors in the month of August. Last month, he pitched nine shutout innings with 20 strikeouts and two walks. His opponents hit .100.

And there Neris was Tuesday night, pitching the ninth inning against the Mets with the Phillies up 5-2 (see first take). His frame was the quickest all night. He struck out Kevin Plawecki and Austin Jackson and got a soft groundout to seal the win.

It was Neris' first save since June 17 — more than three months ago.

"I think he absolutely has overcome the early-season issues," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This is a different pitcher. We were looking at some of the numbers against the Mets and some of them had some success early in the season. But this is not the same guy. So that success they had was not against this Hector Neris. 

"This is a Hector Neris I'm not sure any of us have seen. This is a better version. Since he's been back, this is a better version of him than his best last season or the season prior. My personal opinion, I'm sure it's debatable."

There is so much volatility and turnover in relief performance that Neris could very well excel next season. It's not a lock, but it also wouldn't be the first time a trip to the minors gave a struggling pitcher the jolt he needed.

What stands out about Neris this season is his strikeout rate. He has 70 K's in 44 innings. That's 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings. The only National League pitcher with a higher strikeout rate is Josh Hader. In the AL, it's only Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Mariners stud closer Edwin Diaz.

The main issue earlier in the season was splitter command. Neris couldn't throw his out-pitch for a strike and his opponents started laying off the splitter that dips below the strike zone. He fell behind in counts, had to throw more fastballs and the home runs piled up.

"The changes are that I stopped thinking," Neris said, speaking for the first time since being promoted back to the majors on Aug. 14. 

"Any job is better when you're doing good. I appreciate my teammates here. Everyone talked to me (when I was at Triple A). They were behind me and told me to be positive and said that everyone knew I could come back."

It will be interesting to see how long Neris can make this last. Kapler has utilized many different closers this season — one night it's Seranthony Dominguez, the next it's Tommy Hunter, with a little Pat Neshek sprinkled in and now Neris looks like an option.

You can add him to the list of cost-controlled Phillies looking to impress and give himself an inside track to an opening day roster spot in 2019.

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Phillies 5, Mets 2: Aaron Nola zeroing in on history

Phillies 5, Mets 2: Aaron Nola zeroing in on history

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After five futile innings against left-hander Steven Matz, the Phillies finally broke out for five runs in the sixth inning Tuesday against the Mets' bullpen.

Using extra men paid off for Gabe Kapler in the 5-2 win. A pinch-hit RBI single from Wilson Ramos and a pinch-hit RBI double from Justin Bour preceded Jorge Alfaro's three-run home run.

The moves resulted in J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery leaving midway through the game, but the Phillies are desperate for runs and wins. Kapler will continue to employ "every marginal advantage," as he puts it.

Some fans sneer at what they consider over-managing, but there's not much of a debate that Ramos is a better hitter than Crawford and Bour is a better hitter than Kingery. If Crawford and Kingery would have made outs to end that inning, many would be asking, "Why not go to Ramos or Bour there?"

Aaron Nola started but did not get a decision. He was pulled with two outs in the sixth as his pitch count rose above triple-digits.

Carlos Santana reached base all four times with two singles and two walks. He's up to .234/.358/.426 on the season.

The Phillies are 77-73. With the Braves' 8-1 loss to the Cardinals, the Phillies are 5½ games back in the NL East.

Nola chasing history

The month of September has reminded us that Nola is, indeed, human.

For the third time in four starts this month, Nola couldn't make it out of the sixth inning. He didn't pitch poorly but wasn't at his best, allowing two runs to the Mets over 5⅔ innings with nine strikeouts.

The Phils are 5-1 against the Mets this season when Nola starts and 2-10 when anyone else does.

Nola is up to 199⅓ innings on the season. His opponents are hitting .201. No Phillies pitcher in more than 100 years has pitched at least 200 innings in a season and held his opponents under .200.

"It speaks to durability," Kapler said. "Look, if you're the best option for your team, more times than not, the manager is going to give you the opportunity to take down an additional inning.

"Almost always, Nola feels like the best option to get the next three hitters out. Piling up 200 innings is a huge accomplishment."

Nola's next start, No. 32, will be this Sunday in Atlanta. He'll face the Braves in both of his remaining starts.

Hurt by his counterpart

Nola was taken deep by opposing pitcher Steven Matz, who homered for the second consecutive start.

It was the first home run Nola has allowed to a pitcher since his MLB debut back on July 21, 2015 against Tampa Bay's Nate Karns.

The homer came after Nola had retired seven of the first eight hitters, five via the punchout. It was the eighth homer Nola has allowed in his last four starts after giving up just eight in his previous 27 starts.

Matz walked five but shut the Phillies out over five innings.

Up next

The last Phillies-Mets game of 2018 is Wednesday evening at 6:05.

Zach Eflin (10-7, 4.26) opposes Noah Syndergaard (12-3, 3.26).

The Phillies have hit .348 vs. Syndergaard in three games this season. He has a 5.51 ERA against them.

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