How crazy is it that on an afternoon when the Phils score 10 runs and finish off an unlikely series victory, the leftover taste is a sour one because of the bullpen.
Gabe Kapler tried to show confidence in Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second straight game. It worked Saturday but not Sunday.
After needing eight pitches in a 1-2-3 save Saturday, Neris allowed four runs and two homers in two-thirds of an inning to turn a 10-5 lead into 10-9.
Kapler was forced to turn to Jake Thompson, who threw one pitch to get the save.
At this point, how can he go back to Neris late in a close game? Kapler attempted to use Neris in low-leverage situations – prior to Saturday, each of his last six outings were in games well in-hand – but it hasn’t worked.
Neris has a 6.00 ERA and has allowed eight home runs in 27 innings. To put that in perspective, Aaron Nola has allowed six home runs in 95⅓ innings.
Neris’ velocity was crisp on Sunday, reaching as high as 98 mph. But the location, again, was off. Too many pitches in the middle of the plate.
The Phillies now have a 4.56 ERA in the ninth inning. That’s fourth-worst in the majors and second-worst in the NL, ahead of only the Marlins. Remove Neris from the equation and the Phils’ ninth-inning ERA is 3.97.
The Phillies’ bullpen was supposed to be a strength. But Pat Neshek hasn’t pitched, Neris has fallen flat, Tommy Hunter is only starting to get into a groove and Luis Garcia is on the DL after several rough outings in a row.
Kapler must be careful of overusing Seranthony Dominguez, who factors into their ninth-inning plans far beyond this year. But aside from Dominguez, the only relievers the Phillies have who’ve been reliable more often than not are Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano.
It’s a precarious position to be in, yet the Phils are 12-6 in one-run games this season. Only the Mariners, Yankees, Brewers and Braves have a better winning percentage in such games.
Nick Pivetta is on the hill Monday at home against the Cardinals. The Phillies badly need a long outing from him after their starters accounted for just 57% of the innings in Milwaukee.
It would be the perfect time for Pivetta to get back on track after allowing 13 runs in his last 14 innings and failing to pitch into the sixth four starts in a row.
Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera also homered for the Phillies, who won the three-game series by capturing the two weekend games after suffering a 13-2 drubbing on Friday night.
The Phillies led just 6-5 before Scott Kingery led off the seventh inning with a single.
With two outs, Herrera drew a walk, and after both runners advanced on a wild pitch, the Brewers elected to walk Carlos Santana intentionally.
Franco then followed with his two-run single, increasing the Philadelphia lead to 8-5.
Kingery had a run-scoring double in the eighth and Herrera a solo homer in the ninth, helping the Phillies seemingly pull away into a comfortable lead.
But the Brewers rallied in the ninth off Phillies closer Hector Neris, with Jesus Aguilar leading off the inning with a solo homer and Eric Thames adding a three-run shot with two outs, closing the gap to 10-9.
However, Jake Thompson, recalled from Triple-A on Saturday, came on and retired Christian Yelich on a first-pitch lineout, recording his second career save while giving the Phillies their fourth win in their last six games.
Tommy Hunter (2-0), the second of seven Philadelphia pitchers, was credited with the win after throwing one inning in relief of starter Aaron Nola.
Nola was pulled one out into the fifth, having allowed four runs and seven hits. He walked four and struck out four.
Brewers starter Chase Anderson (5-6) took the loss, after being roughed up for six runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out five.
Herrera had three hits and scored three runs for the Phillies, who had lost two of three to the Brewers when the clubs met in Philadelphia earlier this season.
His homer was his ninth of the season. Franco also recorded his ninth, while Hoskins’ homer, a two-run shot in the first inning, was his 10th.
Franco and Kingery had two hits apiece for the Phillies, while Santana and Cesar Hernandez scored twice each. Nick Williams also chipped in with two RBIs.
Thames hit two homers, the first coming on Nola’s sixth pitch of the game. The home runs were his eighth and ninth of the season.
Aguilar’s homer was his 13th. He also collected a pair of singles and two RBIs for the Brewers, who completed a 3-3 homestand.
Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez added two hits apiece for the Brewers, who out-hit the Phillies 13-12.
In his second at-bat against right-hander Chase Anderson, Franco connected on a hanging, middle-in curveball for a two-run homer to left field.
In the seventh inning, Franco gave the Phillies some insurance with a rare single to right-center in a high-pressure situation. Franco’s line drive drove in two more runs as he completed a four-RBI day.
He’s never going to be a high-OBP guy, but Franco can still pound mistakes here and there. The Phillies think Crawford has more upside offensively and defensively, but right now, Franco is the more effective option between the two because of this ability to occasionally run into a two-run homer.
The league knows what Franco is. He’s likely never going to have significant trade value because of his .298 career on-base percentage in just under 1,900 plate appearances. But he does have mid-20s home run power. He has nine this season after hitting 24 last season and 25 the year before.
Neris … not so good
Kapler turned to Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second day in a row and this time, it didn’t work.
Neris gave up four runs with the Phillies up by five and was pulled with two outs for Jake Thompson.
Neris allowed home runs to Jesus Aguilar and Eric Thames, with Thames’ three-run shot coming at the literal four-hour mark of the game – 4:00:00.
Hoskins stays hot
After demolishing a 431-foot home run Saturday, Rhys Hoskins hit another two-run shot to left in his first at-bat on Father’s Day.
This one wasn’t hit quite as hard but was a majestic, high shot that just kept carrying and carrying.
Hoskins is seeing the ball well. In a later at-bat, he hung with a low-and-away curveball and just missed the barrel, flying out to left field.
Since fracturing his jaw, Hoskins is 11 for 30 (.367) with three doubles, four homers, 11 RBI and four walks in nine games.
Williams’ decisive blow
The half-inning after Nola exited his shortest start in over a year, Nick Williams delivered the key blow for the Phillies, a two-run single up the middle with the bases loaded.
Williams has had a productive week, going 6 for 13 with two doubles, a homer, four RBI, two walks and two hit by pitches in his last five games.
Pitching matchups for the Cardinals series:
Monday: Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.25) vs. Miles Mikolas (7-2, 2.43)
Altherr is out of the starting lineup Sunday against the Brewers.
It appears Altherr can no longer be considered a “regular” in the Philadelphia outfield, as the 27-year-old will now have made just one start in the last seven games. A .179 season-long batting average simply isn’t cutting it, though at least some of that can be attributed to poor luck. He’s still making a reasonable amount of hard contact, sporting a 35.8 percent hard hit rate, which is within a percent of last season’s mark. Altherr also owns a .233 BABIP, which is his lowest of any season in the majors and 95 points lower than his breakout 2017 campaign. Manager Gabe Kapler does not appear inclined to wait for Altherr’s luck to turn back around, as he will roll with an outfield composed of Rhys Hoskins (left), Odubel Herrera (center) and Nick Williams (right) for the fourth consecutive contest, as the Phillies look to take the series from Milwaukee.
Kingery is out of the lineup Sunday against the Brewers.
Kingery has started all but one game at shortstop this month for the Phillies, but will give way to J.P Crawford for the series finale, allowing Maikel Franco to get back into the lineup at third base. The 24-year-old Kingery won’t overwhelm anyone with his power, but after posting just a .581 OPS in the month of June it was likely time for a day off to hit the reset button.
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:
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 important, though. Neris is 36 for 42 in save opportunities the last two seasons, a success rate of 86%. 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% have been scoreless.
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.”