Any hope the Phillies had of winning Wednesday night was pretty much wiped away in the fourth inning. Nick Pivetta gave up five runs, equaling the most runs the Phillies have scored in a game since June 5. It was as straightforward a loss as they have had all season. There wasn’t much to dissect, which is fine because there isn’t much time to dissect it. Vince Velasquez will deliver his first pitch at 1:05 p.m. Thursday, and the Phillies have a chance to win their first series since May 21-23 against Atlanta. As mid-June games go, it feels like a big one.
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Pat Neshek could bring relief to Phillies
Last July, as the trade deadline approached, veteran reliever Pat Neshek proved to be one of the Phillies’ greatest assets. In a different way, the same could be true this season.
Neshek, who re-signed with the Phillies in the offseason after being traded to the Colorado Rockies last July 26, has not yet pitched this year because of a strained right forearm that developed during his recovery from a spring-training shoulder strain. But he’s slated to throw a bullpen session Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, and if that goes well, he could pitch live batting practice in Clearwater, Fla., as soon as this weekend.
There would be additional steps, including a minor-league rehab assignment that could last for up to 30 days, and the Phillies will take care not to rush things. It’s conceivable, though, that when the usual line of contending teams looking for late-inning relief pitching begins to form in July, the Phillies bullpen will get a boost from Neshek’s return.
“No question about it, I think that’s exactly how we see him,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The greatest acquisition we can make right now is inserting Pat Neshek into our bullpen. He’s the best bullpen piece that we could possibly acquire.”
And it couldn’t come at a better time.
Kapler has extreme faith in rookie sensation Seranthony Dominguez, and Tommy Hunter has pitched better than his numbers. But Luis Garcia and lefty Adam Morgan have struggled lately. And although deposed closer Hector Neris rediscovered his once-dominant splitter and struck out the side Wednesday night, it came in the eighth inning of a lopsided game.
A healthy Neshek would give Kapler another reliable, potentially dominant option. Last year, the righthander with the unique sidearm delivery posted a 1.59 ERA, 69 strikeouts and only six walks in 62 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Rockies.
“If you go back and look at him last year, it was straight dominant,” Kapler said. “We recognize that he can go through left and right [handed hitters]. He would just fit perfectly into our bullpen today, tomorrow, five days, 10 days from now.”
Nick Pivetta had a case of the hiccups when he spoke with reporters Wednesday night. It was perfect symbolism after the righthander delivered another hiccup of a start.
Wondering what’s wrong with slumping Odubel Herrera? Kapler is pretty certain Herrera’s leg kick, a timing mechanism, has been off a tick. But based on what Herrera told our Matt Breen, the slumping center fielder is less sure of the problem.
It took a one-month trip to the disabled list, not to mention Florida, but power-hitting Phillies prospect Jhailyn Ortiz is finally mashing for low-A Lakewood.
Check out staff photographer Yong Kim’s work from Wednesday night’s game.
Today: Vince Velasquez starts the series finale vs. the Rockies, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phillies open a three-game series in Milwaukee, 8:10 p.m.
Saturday: 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.
Stat of the day
It hardly seems possible given the profound impact he made on the organization, but only 101 of Jim Thome’s 612 career home runs came as a member of the Phillies. Nevertheless, Thome will be honored before Thursday’s game at Citizens Bank Park, a warm-up for when he is inducted next month into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Thome played for the Phillies from 2003 through only 2005 and then briefly again in 2012. But his decision to come here in the first place signaled the beginning of a baseball revival in Philadelphia. Before Thome signed his six-year, $85 million contract, the Phillies weren’t considered a destination for free agents. In the years after his departure (in a trade for center fielder Aaron Rowand that made room at first base for Ryan Howard), the club went on a run that included five division titles, two National League pennants and a World Series championship.
And Thome was productive here, too. From 2003 through 2005, he ranked sixth among National League hitters with 96 homers, trailing Albert Pujols (130), Andruw Jones (116), Adam Dunn (113), Jim Edmonds (110) and Derrek Lee (109).
From the mailbag
Question: Can you explain why [manager Gabe] Kapler hasn’t put Seranthony Dominguez in the closer role? He is unhittable for one inning. Why waste his talent in the seventh inning? –David W., email
Answer: Thanks for the question, David, and for reading “Extra Innings.” Of all the unorthodox moves that Kapler has made with his bullpen, his deployment of Dominguez is sensible. Dominguez has emerged as the Phillies’ most dominant reliever, so Kapler reserves him for the highest-leverage situations, regardless of the inning. If the heart of the order is due to bat in the seventh, it’s Seranthony Time! If a comfortable lead suddenly becomes tenuous in the ninth, bring on Dominguez! It’s not unlike the way the Indians use Andrew Miller or the Brewers use Josh Hader; neither of them is consigned to a specific inning.
The challenge arises when a reliever other than Dominguez has to record the final three outs. Cleveland has Cody Allen behind Miller; Milwaukee has Corey Knebel after Hader. Since Hector Neris blew a few saves last month, Kapler hasn’t settled on one pitcher for the ninth inning. It isn’t clear he will, either, and that’s where the bullpen has become Kapler’s laboratory.