PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies initially sent Hector Neris to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to clear his head and rediscover the splitter that accounts for more than half of his pitches. If Neris' first two outings back in Philadelphia were any indication -- two innings pitched, no hits, four strikeouts -- the
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies initially sent Hector Neris to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to clear his head and rediscover the splitter that accounts for more than half of his pitches. If Neris' first two outings back in Philadelphia were any indication -- two innings pitched, no hits, four strikeouts -- the one-week demotion worked.
The third outing, though, proved otherwise, and the Phillies again will try to reboot their former closer. After the Nationals roughed up Neris with three home runs in the ninth inning of Friday's 17-7 defeat at Citizens bank Park, the Phillies optioned Neris back to the IronPigs on Saturday. Mark Leiter, owner of a 4.50 ERA in eight Major League innings this season, was recalled to take Neris' place on the active roster.
"Last night, it was just a little bit of shellshock," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "There were some flatter fastballs and some splits that didn't do a whole lot. We know that for this team to be as successful as they can be, we need ... the strong Hector Neris down the stretch to help us get into the playoffs."
Friday's outing told the Phillies that version of Neris wasn't close. Neris' premature return to the Majors had to happen because Edubray Ramos went on the 10-day disabled list with a right shoulder impingement on Monday, but now the hope is that a longer stint away from the watchful eye of a big league fan base can allow Neris to find consistency.
"There's a lot of attention right now every time Hector goes out there and performs," Kapler said, "And I think in Lehigh Valley ... you know that there's nobody watching. You can practice things that you might not practice otherwise. You don't care about how you look ... There's just fewer eyeballs, there's less questions to answer and sometimes that can be a refresher for a player."
The Phillies survived a brutal stretch of their schedule with some timely offense and dominant starts from the likes of Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin, but it is harder to contend deep into the summer without a more reliable back end.
A rejuvenated Neris could help that cause. He needs to find his old self first. The Phillies think he can. They're just not sure how long that'll take.
"A lot of this is trial and error," Kapler said. "We're trying to develop players through various methods and help them be the best that they could be. It's almost uncharted territory. There's no formula."
Neshek nears return
Pat Neshek hasn't pitched in the Majors all year. He's ready.
"I feel great," Neshek said Saturday after striking out the side in an inning of work at Double-A Reading on Friday. "I hit 90 [mph] a few times last night. It seemed like it's been getting easier each outing. You gotta remember it's only been one week and I've had three outings with three months off. I like the swings I was getting. I like how it felt coming out. And I feel like if we want to activate, I feel like I'd be good to go."
Neshek met with Kapler and team trainers on Saturday to discuss what's next. He could throw in one more rehab outing, in which case he'd be ready to be activated on Tuesday. He could be activated as early as Sunday, although that decision hasn't been made.
The 37-year-old strained his right shoulder in Spring Training and then strained his right forearm while trying to get back from the initial injury. There are nights, he said, where he sits in the dugout feeling "kind of depressed." He's ready to stop watching a bullpen struggle without his contributions.
"I know the team needs me, so I'm trying to do it a lot quicker, and if I have to take some lumps early on, that's fine with me," Neshek said. "I wanted to see the velocity and I saw that last night."
At least the team's performance while he's been out has been encouraging.
"I think anybody would take being so many games over .500, rather than have me around," Neshek joked.
The Phillies will soon have both.
Joe Bloss is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.