Phillies closer carousel turns to Hector Neris as experiment continues

Hector Neris removes hat after inning
Philadelphia Phillies reliever Hector Neris removes his hat after he finishes an inning.

NEW YORK — Hector Neris removed his hat, as is his custom when completing an inning, and walked toward second base. He sealed a 6-4 win over the Mets with 17 pitches in the ninth inning. Neris, after his first save of 2017, raised both arms in the air. He was excited.

He forgot to embrace his catcher.

"Dude," Andrew Knapp later joked. "Game's over."

The two Phillies hugged, and it was a little unusual. The whole situation is: The Phillies deployed their third different closer in the season's first 15 games when Neris pitched the ninth Thursday night.

"I'm not naming anybody the closer," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

So the Phillies have opted for the progressive option, in which the manager decides which reliever pitches when based upon the situation — not an established role. It's worth a try, especially with a rebuilding team that boasts a few late-inning possibilities.

"I don't want to name it anything," Mackanin said, when asked if he had adopted a closer-by-committee approach. "You hear it a lot these days, about how pitchers are being used differently with different teams. I just look at it like this: It's nice to have two guys I trust in the eighth and the ninth. I trust both of those guys. I just seized the opportunity to try it tonight."

Joaquin Benoit, who had two chances to close a game, appeared in the eighth inning. Why did Mackanin choose to launch his experiment on this night in particular? Benoit, he said, had pitched three of the last four days. "I want to make sure he's given plenty of rest," Mackanin said. But Benoit pitched Thursday. It just wasn't in the ninth.

The Phillies, last week, picked Benoit to succeed Jeanmar Gomez because he had experience as a closer and it allowed them to keep Neris in a fireman role, where he could be asked to record more than three outs if the situation called for it. By not naming Neris the closer now, it provides Mackanin the flexibility to still use Neris if there is a higher-leverage situation before the ninth inning.

But it would not be a surprise to see the 27-year-old Dominican earn most of the future save opportunities. Neris has struck out 31.4 percent of the batters he's faced since the beginning of last season. He has a 2.33 ERA in that span of 88 2/3 innings.

Benoit, 39, could be better suited for a setup role. Mackanin said Benoit "looks more comfortable" in the seventh and eighth innings.

"In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with," Mackanin said. "I'll probably use Neris again. But it's nice to have somebody when one guy's not available, the other guy is."

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