Why the Phillies aren't ready to trust Hector Neris again | Extra Innings

Gabe Kapler opened his postgame remarks Thursday with five words: “Big win. Big series win.” He could say that again. The Phillies hadn’t won a series in three weeks, since taking two of three games from the Atlanta Braves from May 21-23. And their next five series will be against teams with legitimate playoff aspirations (Brewers, Cardinals, Nationals twice, Yankees). So, there was a had-to-have-it quality about the rubber match with the Rockies. As mid-June games go, this one felt important. Vince Velasquez delivered. The offense did, too. And the Phils jetted off to Milwaukee with renewed vigor. “Happy flight,” Rhys Hoskins said.

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—  Scott Lauber (extrainnings@philly.com)

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
One month after having removed Hector Neris from the closer role, the Phillies are still trying to get him back on track.

The curious case of Hector Neris

Hector Neris entered Wednesday night’s game with the Phillies trailing by five runs in the eighth inning. It was the epitome of a low-leverage moment, precisely the situation to rehabilitate the confidence of a struggling reliever. Sure enough, Neris struck out the side on only 10 pitches, including four diving splitters that produced hapless swings and misses.

“Arguably his best outing of the year,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The split had real life, down and in to righthanded hitters. I thought the fastball had carry. He was up to 96 [mph]. That was extremely encouraging.”

So much so that Kapler turned to Neris again Thursday. It was another low-stress spot. The Phillies had just scored four runs to take a five-run lead into the eighth inning, and the bottom of the Rockies order was due to bat. This time, though, Neris left a splitter over the heart of the plate and Ryan McMahon crushed it to center field for his first major-league home run.

Neris recovered to retire the next three batters. But his stuff wasn’t nearly as dominant. He threw 10 splitters and didn’t miss any bats. Overall, he got only one swing and miss out of 17 pitches.

The back-to-back outings underscored the Phillies’ conundrum with Neris. They would like to use their former closer in the late innings of close games. Clearly, they need him. As much as they would like to call on rookie phenom Seranthony Dominguez every day, they must monitor his workload. And neither Luis Garcia nor lefty Adam Morgan has been effective lately.

But until Neris demonstrates he has regained full command of his signature splitter, it will be difficult for Kapler to trust him. Outings such as Wednesday night’s proves it can still be a devastatingly effective pitch. Outings such as Thursday’s show it remains a work in progress.

The rundown

The Phillies hadn’t scored as many as four runs in an inning since May 10. So, yeah, you could say they were due. “We needed it,” hitting coach John Mallee said of the seventh-inning outburst against the Rockies.

If Trevor Story’s double in the seventh inning hadn’t busted up Vince Velasquez’s bid for a no-hitter, the righthander’s lofty pitch count was going to do him in. No-no or no no-no, the Phillies were thrilled to just see Vinny Velo look so good, as Bob Brookover writes.

There isn’t a Phillies hitter who goes deep more often than Nick Williams, who is making the most of his playing time.

Jim Thome’s journey to the Hall of Fame next month featured a stop at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies saluted him in a pregame ceremony.

Can’t get enough of those powder blue throwbacks? Check out Yong Kim’s photo gallery.

Mickey Moniak, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, returned from a weeklong absence to collect three hits and drive in three runs Thursday night for high-A Clearwater.

A former 20th-round pick of the Phillies, lefty Will Stewart will start the South Atlantic League all-star game next week. And nobody is more surprised about that than Stewart.

Really interesting read from Frank Fitzpatrick on the disappearance of ash bats and the trees from which they are made.

Important dates

Tonight: Jake Arrieta starts the series opener in Milwaukee, 8:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin (three runs in his last two starts) vs. Brewers, 4:10 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola Day. The ace is slated to face the Brew Crew, 2:10 p.m.
Monday: Phillies return home against the St. Louis Cardinals, 7:05 p.m.

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Rhys Hoskins rounding the bases after hitting a solo homer Thursday.

Stat of the day

Rhys Hoskins has gone deep only eight times in 193 at-bats this season, a home-run rate that is well below his blistering — and entirely unsustainable — mark of 18 homers in 170 at-bats after getting called up last year. But say this for Hoskins: He makes his dingers count. All eight of Hoskins’ homers have given the Phillies a lead. The only other National League player with as many as eight go-ahead homers is Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

Hoskins also has clearly found his stroke since returning last weekend from a 10-day stint on the disabled list because of a fractured jaw. In five games, he has gone 6 for 17 with one double, two homers, eight RBIs, three walks and a 1.193 OPS.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: I fail to understand why [Maikel] Franco isn’t getting any love from [manager Gabe] Kapler. He has proved that he can drive in runs and he puts the ball in play more than any of the other players they are batting third, fourth and fifth in the lineup. When he’s in the lineup why is he hitting so far down in the lineup? — Paul B., email

Answer: Thanks, Paul, both for reading “Extra Innings” and for submitting a question. Here’s the biggest reason Franco has been hitting low in the Phillies lineup on the increasingly rare occasions that he starts at all: Of the 25 third basemen with at least 100 plate appearances this season, he ranks 23rd with a .282 on-base percentage and 24th with a .690 OPS. And it’s not only this season. Franco reached base at a .281 clip last year, last among all third basemen. Like so many teams these days, the Phillies value on-base ability. After three years of watching Franco struggle in that department, they have decided to give J.P. Crawford a chance to prove himself as an everyday player. At this point, Franco might well benefit from a fresh start elsewhere.