We've talked the Phillies' starting pitching issues to death lately. Now, they appear to be dealing with one in the ninth inning.
Hector Neris blew the save Tuesday night. Over his last 11 innings, he has allowed 12 runs on 14 hits, six walks and four homers.
Neris threw 11 splitters Tuesday and seven of them were ineffective, flattening out with horizontal movement. When the pitch flattens out as it has lately, it either catches too much plate or becomes a relatively easy take for a left-handed hitter.
"At times, Hector can get a little rotational, get on the side of the baseball instead of on top of it and lose his direction to the plate," manager Gabe Kapler said Tuesday night.
"It can cause both his split and his heater to move more horizontally and into a left-handed hitter's barrel. It's an issue that he's encountered more recently, and we are actively looking to correct it."
The Phillies do not have a better option than Neris to close. David Robertson will be out at least another few weeks. Tommy Hunter longer than that. Pat Neshek was recently transferred to the 60-day IL. Seranthony Dominguez could be back at some point this season but isn't ready yet.
They have to roll with Neris, even through the recent struggles. He could be dealing with some fatigue. He appears only in high-leverage, high-stress innings, and you can't ignore the frequency with which he throws his splitter, a pitch that notoriously causes stress and tension of the elbow. Neris has used his splitter more than 68 percent of the time this season. Yes, he's always thrown it a lot, but that's still much higher than previous seasons. Neris threw it 50 percent of the time in 2017 and 49 percent in 2018.
The Phillies did not foresee a scenario in which they'd have only two reliable relievers a week after the All-Star break. Right now, it's just Neris and Adam Morgan. They won Tuesday night largely because two other relievers, Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio, stepped up to retire all six Dodgers they faced.
In a perfect world, Neris is more of a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever. For the 2019 Phillies, he's had to be the bullpen savior. It's catching up to him. How he responds from here could determine how long the Phillies stay in the wild-card race.
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