Pat Neshek

Matt Klentak, Gabe Kapler agree on how Phillies should use Seranthony Dominguez

Matt Klentak, Gabe Kapler agree on how Phillies should use Seranthony Dominguez

Matt Klentak and Gabe Kapler are in lock-step agreement when it comes to how bullpen weapon Seranthony Dominguez has been deployed.

Kapler, the Phillies skipper, hasn’t ruled out using Dominguez as a classic, ninth-inning closer someday. But he prefers to use the hard-throwing right-hander as a kill shot in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth inning, whenever he determines the game to be on the line.

Klentak, the general manager, shares that philosophy and that’s not a surprise. Their shared baseball ideals and a dedication to new-school practices made Kapler an attractive choice when Klentak went searching for a new manager after last season.

“The argument against (using Dominguez exclusively in the ninth inning) is that the ninth inning is not always the highest-leverage situation,” Klentak said Tuesday afternoon. “You can blow a save in the seventh or the eighth or the ninth. Emotionally, it stings more when it happens in the ninth because you feel like you're right there. You're just about to win the game. But if you never get to the ninth inning with a lead in the first place, you never have a chance to win that game. So sometimes using your best relievers earlier in the game is what makes the most sense.”

By all indications, the Phillies are trying to come up with a dependable ninth-inning man from their current bullpen mix. That would allow Kapler to continue to use Dominguez as a wild card. Luis Garcia and Hector Neris got looks in the ninth. Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano will get some looks there. Pat Neshek might get an occasional call there when he returns. Down the road, others will get a look.

The NL East rival Washington Nationals went out and traded for a closer, Kelvin Herrera, on Monday. Klentak would not say whether he was in the mix for Herrera, but he did not rule out trading for bullpen help in the coming weeks — if the Phillies remain in the hunt.

“There's been a handful of [trade] conversations,” Klentak said. “I wouldn't say that the trade market has been hot at this point. Once you get through the draft, those conversations start. It's the proverbial feeling-out process, but I guess every once and a while that might lead to something.”

Before making a trade, Klentak will first try to fill bullpen holes from within. He mentioned that Neshek could be the biggest bullpen acquisition in the game once he’s ready (see story).

“First and foremost, we really do like and trust the group of relievers that we have,” he said. “I am well aware that to date we have not settled on a single closer. I think at some point we might. If organically it works and that's the way things shake out, I think we're open to that. If we had Brad Lidge on this team, he would close. If we had Billy Wagner on this team, he would close. If we had Jonathan Papelbon on this team, he would close. We don't have one of those guys. So we're making due with what we have, which is a pretty good group. Guys like Arano, Dominguez, Ramos — these guys are having, quietly or not-so-quietly, some really good years. Tommy Hunter is having, arguably, the best year of his career right now.

“That doesn't minimize the fact that we've had some really tough losses, some really deflating ninth-inning meltdowns. But the group itself is really talented and we're confident in it. I think at some point in the near future we're going to get Pat Neshek back, who while not a traditional closer, is probably as good a bullpen arm as a team is going to add in the next six weeks. We will see what's available in the trade market — which players are available, what the costs are. We will probably look at that in free agency as well. But we have to maintain the proper perspective on any potential acquisition.”

That perspective involves weighing where the Phillies are in the standings, how realistic their chances at making the postseason are and what the cost in prospects surrendered would be. Despite the improvements the Phillies have made this season, the front office is still in a building mode and it does not want to mortgage the future.

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Nick Williams out briefly with broken nose; Pat Neshek close to being 'biggest bullpen acquisition'

Nick Williams out briefly with broken nose; Pat Neshek close to being 'biggest bullpen acquisition'

A few interesting items on the injury front from Citizens Bank Park:

• Nick Williams is not in Tuesday night’s lineup. He left Monday night’s game after getting hit in the nose by a ball that ricocheted off the right field wall. At first, it looked like Williams had suffered nothing more than a bloody nose. Further evaluation revealed a break. Both Williams and the Phillies are confident he can avoid the disabled list and return very soon.

“I thought I could play today,” Williams said. “I’m ready.”

It does not appear as if Williams suffered a concussion though the team was awaiting the results of some tests.

“As of right now, we don't think there is a concussion,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Our feeling is that he's going to be able to go [Wednesday]. This is nothing long term; it's not a DL. But we do want to be careful with the concussion stuff for today."

• Reliever Pat Neshek, who has not pitched this season because of a shoulder injury then later a forearm injury, is making good progress in Florida. He could be out on a minor-league rehab assignment next week and be back in early July.

“When Pat thinks he’s ready and our evaluators think he’s ready, we’ll gladly get him here right away,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “I couldn’t tell you if that’s going to be one or two outings or four or five outings.”

Klentak signed Neshek to a two-year, $16.25 million contract in the offseason. He believes the veteran right-hander will provide a big boost to the bullpen.

“That may be the single biggest bullpen acquisition any team makes — Pat Neshek rejoining us,” Klentak said. “This guy was as good a setup reliever as there was in all of baseball for six months last season.”

• Mickey Moniak has been out of the Clearwater lineup recently. He had his wisdom teeth removed. He is working his way back into action. Moniak, 20, was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.

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Hector Neris still in Phillies' late-inning plans after all

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Hector Neris still in Phillies' late-inning plans after all

Update: Several hours after this post went up, Hector Neris allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Phillies led by five.

Gabe Kapler's call Saturday to Hector Neris in the ninth inning of a 4-1 game in Milwaukee was a big surprise — and as with his decision to pinch-hit for a cruising Zach Eflin in the top of the sixth, he evaded criticism only because the moves worked.

We'd gotten used to seeing Neris only in games that had already been decided. Prior to Saturday, here were his last six outings:

• 8th inning, Phillies up by 5

• 8th inning, Phillies down by 6

• 7th inning, Phillies down by 10

• 8th inning, Phillies down by 4

• 7th inning, Phillies down by 3

• 8th inning, Phillies up by 4

When Seranthony Dominguez entered in the eighth inning after Tommy Hunter and Edubray Ramos, it looked like the Phillies were again set to use Dominguez for a six-out save. But he threw 17 pitches and put two men on base in the eighth, so there was some stress. You can't use a guy for two innings every time.

Here's how rare it would have been for Dominguez to pick up another two-out save there: If he had, he'd have become only the third pitcher in the last eight seasons to record three two-inning saves in a year (2018 Josh Hader, 2017 Raisel Iglesias).

But back to Neris. This was good timing for Kapler to give him a jolt of confidence. It was a three-run lead so technically a save situation, but Neris had breathing room. It was against the middle of the Brewers' order: Lorenzo Cain, Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun.

In eight pitches, Neris finished the job. It was one of the most efficient outings of his career.

"We've eased (Neris) back into the fire," Kapler told reporters after the game. "[We pitched him] in low-leverage situations quite a bit and really paid very close attention to how his stuff was moving. And we've seen a couple of games that have been good. One that was lights-out and that kinda looked like we could throw him back into [a high-leverage] situation."

Neris is one of those players Phillies fans just seem to have little patience for, probably because he's been around here during some lean years and they've seen him blow leads. The full scope of Neris is worth remembering, though. Neris is 36 for 42 in save opportunities the last two seasons, a success rate of 86 percent. Not the best, but far from the worst. 

Since 2016, he has a 3.08 ERA with 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Of his 182 appearances over that span, 75 percent have been scoreless. (Numbers prior to Sunday.)

He's done the job in the past and hasn't simply forgotten how to get outs in the major leagues. Most relievers endure rough periods, and the Phillies are still hoping to be able to use Neris in big spots moving forward.

With how good Ramos and Dominguez have been, the Phillies' bullpen could turn into the strength they thought it would be if Neris and Tommy Hunter can turn their seasons around and Pat Neshek can make it back from season-long arm problems.

"The guy that Hector has been in the past, we know is still in there," Kapler said. "It didn't disappear. ... The confidence that we have in guys like Rhys Hoskins and in Scott Kingery, it doesn't go away because they're struggling a little bit. And that's true for our pitchers too. They struggle a little bit, we try to look for spots to pop 'em again and get that confidence back and get them rolling."

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