MLB

Hector Neris heads to Triple A to clear head, find splitter

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Hector Neris heads to Triple A to clear head, find splitter

The news really was not surprising. For more than a month now, Hector Neris has looked a little shell-shocked and a little gun shy. He wasn’t pitching with the confidence he exhibited in 2016 and 2017 when he was a mainstay in the Phillies bullpen.

Neris' struggles came to an unfortunate head when he was tagged for four runs in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game in Milwaukee. The Phillies survived and escaped with a 10-9 win. But Neris' roster spot did not survive. He reported for work at Citizens Bank Park on Monday and was told that he’d been demoted to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies hope that Neris can rebuild his confidence and rediscover the splitter that helped him save 26 games last season.

“We would like Hector to clear his head,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It feels like the right time for him to work on his command of his split, specifically. And he just, quite frankly, needed a refresher. Sometimes that refresher, sometimes that recharge can change everything and get him right back on track. It is our expectation that Hector will be back with the Phillies this season, helping and contributing to a playoff run and hopefully beyond.”

To fill Neris’ roster spot, the Phillies selected the contract of left-handed reliever Austin Davis. Davis, 25, was selected by the Phillies in the 12th round of the 2014 draft. He had a 2.70 ERA and a 0.982 WHIP in 26 games at Double A Reading and Triple A Lehigh Valley this season.

Neris, 29, was the Phillies’ primary closer last season. He pitched in 74 games. He pitched in 79 games in 2016.

The workhorse right-hander has struggled mightily this season, pitching to a 6.00 ERA in 30 games.

“We don't have a timetable for this,” Kapler said. “It's much more clearing his head, getting a refresher, shot in the arm, an opportunity to make any adjustments he needs to make in a completely pressure-free environment and come back recharged and ready to roll.”

Neris has had trouble getting his splitter down in the zone.

“His ability to throw that pitch where he wants to throw it in the zone and then to move it out of the zone is what makes Hector Neris special and a guy that's been an effective reliever now for a couple years,” Kapler said. “Without the command of that pitch — again, there's subjectivity to it, this is just what I'm seeing — I think it's very hard for him to be as successful as he wants himself to be and as successful as we think he can be.”

Kapler said Neris took the news like a pro.

“I know his ego was bruised," Kapler said. "It has to be. I'm pretty empathetic to that. It's hard to establish yourself at the major-league level and have to say it to your teammates that this is what occurred. It's hard. This is a really tough thing for Hector to deal with, but I'm very confident this is what's best for him long term. I'm very confident this will give him an opportunity to be right back here with his teammates."

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Nick Pivetta tagged, offense 'not clicking' in Phillies' loss to Rockies

Nick Pivetta tagged, offense 'not clicking' in Phillies' loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

For Jesmuel Valentin, it was a night to remember.

For everyone else on the Phillies, not so much.

The Phils continue to have trouble stringing together a run of victories. Their modest two-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday night when they ran into a warming Colorado Rockies' offense and a sharp left-handed pitcher. 

The Rockies clubbed the Phillies and starter Nick Pivetta, 7-2, on the strength of 11 hits and seven innings of one-run ball from Tyler Anderson (see first take). The victory snapped a five-game losing skid for the Rockies heading into the rubber game of the series Thursday afternoon. The Phillies have not won a series since taking two of three from the Braves on May 21-23.

Offense continues to be a major problem for the Phillies. They had seven hits Wednesday night but three of them — two doubles and a homer — came from rookie reserve Valentin, who started in right field as Gabe Kapler juggled his outfield to get badly slumping Odubel Herrera a night off.

While the rookie Valentin shined, the team’s feature rookie, Scott Kingery, struggled. One night after belting a big three-run homer in the first inning, he batted third and struck out four times to fall to .211.

The Phillies have played 16 games since they were nine games over .500 and spent one day in first place in the National League East. Since then, they are 5-11. They are hitting .201 with a .281 on-base percentage and are averaging just 3.1 runs per game over that span.

“There’s no disputing that our offense is not clicking,” Kapler said. “It’s very clear that we’re not getting a lot of hits. It’s very clear that we’re not scoring a lot of runs. It’s very clear that earlier in the season we were working deeper counts. We were just having better all-around at-bats.

“I don’t know if me getting frustrated will be helpful for our hitters. I’m not going to display frustration to them. I’m certainly riding this with them. I’m right by their side as are all of our coaches and we’re going to continue to work to put them into a position to succeed, create good matchups for them, make adjustments with them, identify the weakness in the opposing pitchers.”

Pivetta did not pitch well for the Phillies. He gave up a run in the first inning and five in the fourth. The Rockies have some thunder in their lineup and they love fastballs. Pivetta needed to make some pitches with his off-speed stuff, but his curveball was not sharp. He gave up an RBI double to Trevor Story and a two-run home run to Ian Desmond in that fourth inning. Both of those big hits came on curveballs up in the zone.

“He didn’t have his breaking-ball command tonight,” Kapler said. “That was the major issue. It was difficult for him to locate his off-speed pitches.”

“I got behind in counts and didn’t execute pitches,” Pivetta said. “They’re a good hitting club and took advantage. 

"It’s a disappointing loss. I’ll take that one. It’s unacceptable giving up five runs in the fourth inning. You need to be able to limit that inning as much as possible.”

Pivetta opened the season with a 3.26 ERA in his first 11 starts. He has given up 13 earned runs in 14 innings over his last three starts.

“I need to lock back in,” the 25-year-old pitcher said.

Pivetta has had more ups than downs this season. Kapler is willing to be patient with him.

“He’s a young, developing pitcher,” Kapler said. “He’s going to have his bumps. He’s going to have hiccups along the way. I think this is just an indication of that.”

Fittingly, Pivetta actually did have the hiccups as he spoke with reporters after the game. He could have done without the ones on the mound.

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Another rough start for Nick Pivetta in Phillies' loss to Rockies

Another rough start for Nick Pivetta in Phillies' loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

This one all came down to starting pitching. Tyler Anderson was sharp. Nick Pivetta was not.

The Phillies’ modest two-game winning streak ended Wednesday night in a 7-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park.

Anderson, a lefty, handcuffed the Phillies with seven innings of one-run ball. He held the Phillies to six hits, walked none and struck out six.

Pivetta, meanwhile, saw his recent struggles continue as he was tagged for eight hits and six runs in five innings of work. The right-hander walked three.

Pivetta opened the season with a 3.26 ERA in his first 11 starts. He has given up 13 earned runs in 14 innings over his last three starts.

The Rockies entered the game having lost nine of 11 and five in a row. However, they showed signs of awakening when they stroked five hits and scored three runs in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Phillies.

The Rockies continued to wake up in this one. They scored a single run against Pivetta in the first inning and five in the fourth inning. Pivetta gave up a walk, two singles, a double and a two-run homer to Ian Desmond in that inning.

Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro accounted for the Phillies’ first run with a solo homer against Anderson in the fifth inning. Rookie Jesmuel Valentin got the start in right field and had three of the Phillies' seven hits. He doubled twice and stroked his first big-league homer with two outs in the ninth inning.

Scott Kingery batted third and struck out four times.

The Phillies have lost 11 of 16 games since briefly rising to first place in the NL East on May 26. They are 34-31.

Notes
• Slumping Odubel Herrera got the night off. His batting average has dipped from an NL-best .361 to .283 in a span of 23 games.

• Maikel Franco, who had not been in the starting lineup for five straight games, got the nod at third base against the lefty Anderson. Franco had previously been 3 for 7 with a homer against Anderson. He went hitless in four at-bats in this game. Franco has lost playing time to J.P. Crawford and will likely continue to do so as the Phillies get a look at Crawford at third base.

• The series concludes on Thursday afternoon with Vince Velasquez (4-7 4.95) facing Colorado right-hander German Marquez (4-6, 4.79). The Phillies will honor Jim Thome before the game in advance of his July induction to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

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