Hector Neris

What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

BOX SCORE

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.

More on the Phillies

Mets 9, Phillies 4: That’s 7 losses in the last 9 games

Mets 9, Phillies 4: That’s 7 losses in the last 9 games

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets continue to make life miserable on the Phillies. The Mets beat the Phils for the 11th time in 17 meetings this season on Monday night. The final score from quiet Citizens Bank Park was 9-4.

The Phillies entered the game trailing first-place Atlanta by 6½ games in the NL East and were unable to make up any ground. The Phils have 13 games left, including seven with Atlanta. The two teams begin a four-game series Thursday night in Atlanta, but this race is all but over.

Not enough offense

It’s a familiar refrain, but the Phillies didn’t produce enough offense. Sure, they scored four runs against Mets starter Zack Wheeler, but they all came in one inning – the fifth – after they had been no-hit for the first four innings. The Phils had just five hits in the game and three of them came in the fifth inning. J.P. Crawford had the big blow, a three-run triple. The Phils then tied the game on a sacrifice fly and left a runner at second base when Rhys Hoskins was called out for interfering with a pickoff attempt by the catcher. Ouch.

Arrieta struggles

Jake Arrieta was not sharp. He allowed 10 base runners and four runs in five innings. Tommy Hunter gave up the go-ahead run on a two-out double in the seventh and Michael Conforto completely snuffed out the Phils with a three-run homer in the ninth en route to a six-RBI night.

Just when the Phillies needed Arrieta most, he has failed to deliver. His ERA over his last seven starts is a plump 6.03.

Stat check

Carlos Santana drew his 100th and 101st walks of the season. He became the first Phillie since Pat Burrell in 2008 to reach 100 walks.

Going to need a bigger bus

The Phillies are expected to activate lefty reliever Aaron Loup from the disabled list on Tuesday. That means every player on the 40-man roster will be active. Can’t remember the last time that happened with a Phillies team – if ever. Loup will give the team 16 active relievers. Someone might have to build an addition onto the bullpen.

On Sunday, general manager Matt Klentak said he was not fond of the rule that allows rosters to expand beyond 25 in September. He doesn’t like the idea of playing under one set of rules for five months and then another for the final month of the season, when games can grow in importance. Of course, all teams add players in September and as long as that is permitted the Phillies will play along as they seek any competitive advantage.

For the record, Gabe Kapler likes having the extra players.

“It's an invigorating challenge, a stimulating challenge, one that I really enjoy,” he said of juggling an expanded roster. “If you can convince your players to take a real team-first approach and that everyone is going to contribute every single night or has a chance to contribute every single night regardless of what inning it is and what part of the game they play, I actually think it could be a really exciting brand of baseball. The more chess pieces you have, the more interesting the game becomes. Maybe that’s not the case for the fan. I’m thinking about it from the perspective of the manager. And from my perspective, I like more chess pieces.”

Thirty-nine chess pieces couldn’t bring the Phils a win Monday night.

More on the Phillies

Phillies 9, Marlins 4: Early offense supports strong start from Jake Arrieta

Phillies 9, Marlins 4: Early offense supports strong start from Jake Arrieta

BOX SCORE

MIAMI – The Phillies scored more runs in the first inning Tuesday night than they had in their previous three games. The four-run first inning helped the Phillies beat the Miami Marlins, 9-4.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak and was just the Phils’ 10th in the last 27 games.

The victory put the Phillies in position to pick up a game on first-place Atlanta in the NL East. The Phils entered the night trailing the Braves by four games.

Jake Arrieta earned his 10th win. Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Cesar Hernandez led the Phillies’ offense.

Santana gets it started
Looking for runs, manager Gabe Kapler continued to churn his lineup. He used Santana in the leadoff spot for the fifth time this season and the move paid immediate dividends as Santana led off the game with his 21st homer to start a four-run first inning. Santana reached base three times with two hits and a walk.

Hernandez smacked a three-run triple to complete the four-run first inning and Cabrera belted a two-run double in the second inning before adding a solo homer in the fourth.

Arrieta delivers
Arrieta put himself on notice after lasting just three innings against Washington in his previous start. He said he felt a responsibility to pitch better in a pennant race. He followed through with 7 1/3 innings of four-run ball. He struck out 11, a season high. Arrieta threw 75 pitches and got just one swing and miss against Washington. In this outing, he threw 108 pitches and got 18 swings and misses, mostly with his sinker and curveball.

Arrieta allowed a pair of solo home runs to J.T. Realmuto.

Not this time
Marlins right-hander Trevor Richards had faced the Phillies once in July and once in August and allowed just eight hits and a run in 11 innings. This time, he did not make it out of the second inning as the Phillies tagged him for six runs on four hits and four walks. 

The Phillies had 11 base runners in the first two innings. In Monday’s 3-1 loss to Miami, they had four for the entire game.

Franco still ailing
Maikel Franco did not play. He is headed for more tests on his ailing right wrist (see story).

An honor for Hector
Hector Neris was named NL reliever of the month for August. Neris, who spent more than a month in the minors regaining confidence and command of his splitter, made 10 scoreless appearances in the month and struck out 20 of the 32 batters he faced.

Up next
The Phillies have not won a series since August 2-5 when they swept four games from the Marlins to go 15 games over .500. The Phillies have experienced tough times since then. With a victory on Wednesday night, they can finally win another series. Nick Pivetta gets the start for the Phillies against Miami right-hander Sandy Alcantara. Pivetta has pitched well against the Marlins this season. In two starts, he has allowed just two runs in 11 2/3 innings. He has struck out 16 and walked none.

And in New York
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Mets in New York on Friday night. The Phillies will see Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom in that order in that series. The Phillies will counter with Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez, respectively.

More on the Phillies