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Gutsy decisions by Kapler pay off in Phils' win

Manager lifts sharp Eflin, calls on Neris for save
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Everybody expected Seranthony Dominguez to pitch the eighth and ninth innings Saturday at Miller Park because that is how Phillies manager Gabe Kapler often uses his biggest and baddest weapon in the bullpen.

Dominguez is not the Phillies' closer, but he is Kapler's preferred choice with the game on the line.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Everybody expected Seranthony Dominguez to pitch the eighth and ninth innings Saturday at Miller Park because that is how Phillies manager Gabe Kapler often uses his biggest and baddest weapon in the bullpen.

Dominguez is not the Phillies' closer, but he is Kapler's preferred choice with the game on the line.

View Full Game Coverage

But then Kapler pinch-hit for Dominguez in the ninth, and Hector Neris picked up the save in the 4-1 victory over the Brewers. Neris lost his job as the Phillies' closer last month and recently has pitched mostly in low-leverage situations with the team behind, but he looked like his former occasionally dominant self, throwing just eight pitches to wipe out the Brewers' 3-4-5 hitters. It was a gutsy decision by Kapler and an important confidence booster for Neris, who earned his first save in his first save opportunity since May 21.

Video: PHI@MIL: Neris gets Braun to fly out, earns the save

"No nerves," Neris said. "If you feel nervous it's because you don't know who you are, you know? I'm waiting the same every game, waiting for my name. When he calls me, I prepare my mind to go into the game and do my job. When he calls Hector, I'll be ready."

Rhys Hoskins and Andrew Knapp homered as the Phillies walked 10 times and struck out 14 times. They went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position, leaving the bases loaded in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. But they made the Brewers pitchers work.

Video: PHI@MIL: Knapp rips a solo home run to center field

Kapler made another gutsy call in the sixth when he had Maikel Franco pinch-hit for Zach Eflin, who allowed three hits, one run, one walk and struck out six in five innings. Eflin had thrown just 74 pitches, but the Phillies had runners on second and third with one out in a 2-1 game. They have had trouble scoring for weeks, so Kapler tried to break open the game.

The Brewers intentionally walked Franco to load the bases. J.P. Crawford followed with a walk to score a run to make it 3-1. Cesar Hernandez then reached on an infield single to score another run to make it 4-1.

Video: PHI@MIL: Hernandez plates Williams on an infield hit

"That was a really tough decision," Kapler said. "We are going to play for big innings. We're going to try to score multiple runs in innings. Sometimes, in a 2-1 baseball game, that means pulling a guy who has a pitch count in the mid-70s."

"He just has a whole lot of confidence in our bullpen, the pieces in our bullpen," Hoskins said. "As he should. It was cool."

Video: PHI@MIL: Dominguez K's Yelich, gets approval from fan

Dominguez allowed a one-out double to Hernan Perez and hit Eric Sogard with a pitch with one out in the eighth inning. He got out of the inning. The Phillies then had a runner on first with one out in the top of the ninth when Aaron Altherr pinch-hit for Dominguez.

"First and foremost, he wasn't perfect, you know?" Kapler said about Dominguez. "Had we not had a runner on base, I was prepared to send him up to the batter's box and let him put the bat on his shoulder and send him back out for the ninth inning. Just openly: That was the game plan. But I also think it's always worth trying to tack on one run and playing for a big inning. That's not to say it always works out that way. But certainly that's what we're thinking about. Ultimately, we liked the spot in the lineup for Hector. It was a part of the lineup we had identified pregame as a good spot for him. Two righties, one lefty. A lefty we thought his split would be effective against."

Video: PHI@MIL: Kapler discusses Eflin's start in 4-1 win

Saturday it worked.

"It's a little bit of just reading the situation," Kapler said. "We never lose confidence in our players. So the guy that Hector has been in the past, we know is still in there. It didn't disappear. He's a young man. He, by any way you look at it, he's still developing his arsenal. Mixing and matching with his pitches. Slider usage is still something we're thinking about. The confidence we have in guys like Rhys and 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 them again and get that confidence back and get them rolling."

Video: PHI@MIL: Kingery lays out for a fantastic diving grab

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Knapp has struggled offensively this season, but he hit a solo home run to center field in the fifth inning to hand the Phillies a 2-1 lead. It was his first homer since May 28, 2017. The ball left his bat at 104.6 mph, making it Knapp's hardest hit of the season.

"I feel a lot more comfortable at the plate," Knapp said. "I've kind of gotten into a nice little groove on the days I'm not playing, where I'm doing a lot of machine work in the cage, just getting my hands and eyes ready for velocity. I think it's been helping a lot. But a little more playing time has helped a little bit, too."

Video: PHI@MIL: Knapp on 1st homer of 2018 in Phillies' win

SOUND SMART
Eflin is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his past three starts, striking out 17 and walking three in 18 2/3 innings. He allowed three hits, one run, one walk and struck out six in five innings against the Brewers. He got 11 swings and misses out of 73 pitches (15.1 percent) against Milwaukee, the second-highest rate of any start in his career. Eflin has 11 swings and misses in each of his previous three starts after having 10 or fewer in 24 of his first 27 career starts. He credits his changeup for some of his recent success.

Video: PHI@MIL: Eflin gets Shaw in rundown with pickoff move

"I've really been feeling that pitch the past couple outings," he said. "I really wanted to continue to throw more and more changeups, especially after heaters in and whatnot. It's really been a comfortable pitch for me."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Hoskins crushed a home run off the windows of Miller Park's Stadium Club in the third deck in left field in the fourth inning, handing the Phillies a 1-0 lead. The ball left Hoskins' bat at 112 mph, making it the hardest-hit homer of Hoskins' career and the Phillies' third hardest-hit homer of the season. The ball travelled a projected 431 feet. Hoskins is hitting .360 (9-for-25) with three home runs, nine RBIs and a 1.233 OPS in seven games since returning from the 10-day disabled list because of a broken jaw.

Video: PHI@MIL: Hoskins crushes his solo homer 112 mph

"It was a good swing," Hoskins said. "You can't miss those pitches. It was nice to see that I didn't. I don't know if [my swing speed is] faster, but it might just be a little easier, a little freerer. I'm trying to simplify everything. I think that that allows for the body to take over and for the swing to just work."

HE SAID IT
"J.P. Crawford saw 40 pitches today. I'll repeat that: J.P. Crawford saw 40 pitches today. That is exactly what we need. Foul balls wear out opposing pitchers. Our entire team did it, right? We didn't get all that many hits, but we walked a lot. On many occasions, we had a chance to blow the game open." -- Kapler, on Crawford. His walk in the sixth inning with the bases loaded scored the Phillies' third run.

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Phillies won a replay challenge in the fourth inning, when Eflin picked off Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain at first base. First-base umpire Laz Diaz initially called Cain safe, but the replay official in New York saw Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana tag Cain before he touched the bag. The Phillies have won 14 of 21 challenges this season.

Video: PHI@MIL: Eflin nabs Cain at first on overturned call

UP NEXT
Phillies ace Aaron Nola (8-2, 2.27 ERA) faces Brewers right-hander Chase Anderson (5-5, 4.13 ERA) on Sunday afternoon in the series finale at Miller Park. Nola looks like a lock to make the National League All-Star team, putting together one of the best seasons of any pitcher in baseball. He has allowed more than three runs just once in 14 starts this season. He has struck out 90 and walked 22 in 91 innings. First pitch is at 2:10 p.m. ET.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies, J.P. Crawford, Seranthony Dominguez, Zach Eflin, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew Knapp, Hector Neris