Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hector Neris racked up 102 strikeouts, the second-most ever by a Phillies reliever, during his breakout 2016 season.

The right-hander did it basically with a two-pitch mix — a power fastball and a darting splitter that manager Pete Mackanin likes to call “an invisible pitch.”

After last season, Neris reflected on his success, which included a 2.58 ERA over 80⅓ innings, the third-most among NL relievers.

Neris determined that he would need to diversify his pitch repertoire if he’s going to continue to have success.

So during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, he dusted off his seldom-used slider and threw it more. He’s polishing it up in this camp and plans to use it in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and during the regular season.

“I think it’s something that can make me better,” Neris said. “I’ve never had the confidence in it that I had in my other pitches, but I’m working hard on it. It will give me a third option for the hitter to think about.”

Neris threw a slider 2.9 percent of the time in 2016, according to MLB Statcast. He threw more than 49 percent splitters and 46 percent fastballs.

“In the big leagues you have to respect the hitter,” Neris said. “The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect. When I throw it, I want them to say, ‘What is that?’”

Neris’ splitter darts down and in to a right-hander hitter. The slider will break the other way.

Neris has talked about different grips on the pitch with guest spring-training instructor Larry Andersen, who threw a million sliders in his career.

“He threw some nasty ones today,” Andersen said after Tuesday’s workout. “The pitch will help him.”

McLaren to WBC
Bullpen coach John McLaren will leave camp on Wednesday and travel to Japan as Team China assembles for the World Baseball Classic. McLaren will manage that club. He also skippered the club in 2013.

Asked if he spoke more than seven words of Chinese, McLaren quipped, “That would be pushing it. I’m still trying to conquer English.”

Team China will provide a translator for McLaren, though there is a universal element to baseball communication.

“This is my third time going to the WBC,” McLaren said. “I love it.”

Almost game time
The Phillies will play their annual exhibition game against the University of Tampa on Thursday. The Phils are expected to play many of the young players that will make up their Triple A Lehigh Valley roster. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who pitched at Double A Reading last season, will come over from minor-league camp to make the start. Pitching coach Bob McClure said he expected to get several projected big-league relievers work in the game.

Alec Asher will start the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees on Friday in Tampa and Adam Morgan will start Saturday’s games against the Yankees in Clearwater.

Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for first time since Wednesday

social_phillies_todays_lineup_v2.jpg
CSN

Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for first time since Wednesday

The juggling of Rhys Hoskins and Tommy Joseph at first base will continue today in Atlanta.

After only appearing as a pinch-hitter in last night's loss to the Braves, Joseph will draw back into the lineup at first for the Phillies in today's series finale. He'll bat fifth, right behind Hoskins, who's in the clean-up spot for manager Pete Mackanin.

With Hoskins, a natural first baseman who's been adjusting to left field, tearing up the scene, questions are aplenty over what the Phils plan to do at the position. Hoskins isn't going anywhere, obviously, so the questions center around Joseph. Any at-bats he gets this last week are important for his audition.

Joseph is hitting .240 on the season, but he does have 22 homers and 68 RBIs on the season.

Today marks Joseph's first start since Wednesday's win over the Dodgers. He appeared as a pinch-hitter Thursday and last night, but he did not play at all Friday.

Hoskins is back in left this afternoon. He's up to 18 homers and 41 RBIs on his short MLB season. He did contribute an RBI double in last night's loss.

J.P. Crawford, who's batting seventh, moves back to his natural shortstop spot today after playing second last night for Cesar Hernandez. Freddy Galvis will have the afternoon off. Crawford has a .245 average and 6 RBIs in 17 games with the big club.

Odubel Herrera has the afternoon off, as well.

Both teams' full lineups can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, CF
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Tommy Joseph. !B
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. J.P. Crawford, SS
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Nick, Pivetta, SP

Braves
1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Johan Camargo, 2B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Kurt Suzuki, C
6. Rio Ruiz, 3B
7. Dansby Swanson, CF
8. Jace Pederson, LF
9. Luiz Gohara, SP

Henderson Alvarez solid as audition with Phillies continues in loss to Braves

Henderson Alvarez solid as audition with Phillies continues in loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — It had been three years to the day since Henderson Alvarez had notched a pitching victory in the major leagues. Back on Sept. 23, 2014, while pitching for the Miami Marlins in a season in which he made the National League All-Star team, he beat the Phillies with 7 2/3 shutout innings.
 
A shoulder injury limited Alvarez to just four starts the next season. He did not pitch in 2016 and was forced to show his wares in the Independent Atlantic League before latching on with the Phillies in late August.
 
The Phils were looking for some pitching depth to get through the season, but Alvarez didn't care about the reason. He was happy for the audition in Triple A and the call to the majors this month.
 
Alvarez's long road back from surgery put him on the mound at SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves, on Saturday night, exactly three years after his last big-league win. It would have been pretty sweet for the 27-year-old right-hander to come out of the assignment with a win — and he was in line to get it before the bullpen let a late lead get away in a 4-2 loss to the Braves (see observations).
 
"It is what it is," Alvarez said, shrugging after the game. "That's the way baseball is sometimes. You have to make every single out. There are things you cannot control. You just go out there and try your best."
 
Alvarez pitched five shutout innings and left with a 2-0 lead thanks to an RBI double by Rhys Hoskins and another run that scored on a passed ball.
 
"He pitched through five innings, got through it and didn't give up a run," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His ball had some movement and he changed speeds."
 
The bullpen could not hold the lead. Newcomer Kevin Siegrist gave up a solo homer to Rio Ruiz in the sixth inning on a 1-2 breaking ball that registered 69 mph on the radar gun. Two innings later, Luis Garcia was tagged for three runs as the Braves tied the game and took the lead.
 
Up and down the roster, the Phillies are in audition mode. Siegrist, a waiver claim from St. Louis, is looking to stick with the club as a lefty out of the bullpen. Ditto for Adam Morgan, who has been sensational over the last couple of months. He racked up another scoreless inning in this game and has allowed just two runs in his last 23 innings, dating to Aug. 2. Garcia has been auditioning toward the back of the bullpen and performed well. He had not allowed an earned run in his last 12 1/3 innings before this outing.
 
Garcia allowed three hits and three runs. Dansby Swanson singled home the tying run after Garcia fell behind in the count and had to pump fastballs with a man on second, and pinch-hitter Johan Camargo broke the tie with a two-out, two-run double to right-center.
 
"When you're pitching in a clutch situation, you can't fall behind hitters," Mackanin said. "You’ve got to get ahead. I think he threw five consecutive fastballs to Swanson. He tried to get a strike and couldn't do it. And you have to do it to be successful. You cannot get behind the hitters.
 
"It all comes down to getting clutch hits, making clutch plays and making clutch pitches. We're looking to win a World Series. You've got to be clutch."
 
The Phillies could have used a clutch hit or two to pad their early lead. In one big situation, they had the bases loaded against Braves starter Julio Teheran with two outs in the seventh and Odubel Herrera grounded out to second base on Teheran's last pitch of the night.
 
Herrera is hitless in the first two games of the series after hitting in each of the first 13 games (at a .434 clip) between the two teams this season.
 
It's not clear where Alvarez fits into the Phillies' future — or even if he does. He could make one more start over the final week of the season or he could finish in the bullpen. It does not seem likely the Phillies would keep him on the 40-man roster all winter, but it's not difficult to envision the club trying to bring him back on a minor-league deal where he could provide organizational depth and continue to get stronger post-surgery. Several teams will probably have interest in doing that.
 
Whatever happens, Alvarez had to feel good about his work Saturday night. Though he did not get his win, it was a step in the right direction on the comeback trail.
 
"It's been a roller-coaster," he said. "I just have to keep working hard."