Phillies Notes: Hector Neris to pitch 9th; Howie Kendrick likely out longer than expected

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris to pitch 9th; Howie Kendrick likely out longer than expected

Pete Mackanin won't officially name Hector Neris the closer, but if the Phillies have a lead in the ninth inning Friday against the Braves he plans to turn to Neris for the save for the second straight night.

Neris pitched a 1-2-3 inning Thursday at Citi Field for his first save of the season. Joaquin Benoit, who Mackanin dubbed the closer "for now" after removing Jeanmar Gomez from the role less than two weeks ago, will pitch in a setup role. Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning Thursday, retiring Jay Bruce, Neil Walker and Jose Reyes.

Benoit has extensive experience as a setup man and has a 2.42 ERA since 2010. When Mackanin gave Benoit the first crack at closing after Gomez faltered, part of the reasoning was that Neris was just so valuable as a setup man capable of getting more than three outs. A lot of times, the eighth inning provides as many or more high-leverage situations as the ninth.

But Neris pitched well and locked down the win Thursday, so he'll get the next opportunity. Mackanin said Thursday that he likes having the luxury of interchanging Neris and Benoit or using Benoit in the ninth when Neris is unavailable.

"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said after Thursday's win. "Over in Washington (when Benoit allowed a walk-off three-run homer to Bryce Harper), I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with."

Neris has emerged the last two seasons as an elite reliever. In 87 appearances, he has a 2.33 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 111 strikeouts and 31 walks in 88 2/3 innings. He hasn't allowed a run in 69 of those 87 appearances.

Kendrick injury update
Howie Kendrick, on the 10-day DL retroactive to April 16, likely will not return when he's first eligible April 26 and it looks like he'll be out a bit longer than expected. Kendrick said he did not think the injury was to his oblique, but it turns out that's exactly what it is.

Mackanin gave an estimated timetable of about two weeks from when Kendrick first went on the DL but noted the tricky nature of oblique injuries. The constant twisting of swinging a bat can cause setbacks or slow recovery time -- see Asche, Cody last spring. Recovery timetables for oblique injuries tend to last about a month.

Kendrick's absence continues to provide an opportunity for 23-year-old outfielder Aaron Altherr, who is 7 for 21 (.333) this season with two doubles and a homer.

Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Noah Syndergaard came out firing Thursday night. The right-hander with the electric arm and the power forward's body struck out the Phillies' first three hitters on 14 pitches to open the game. Thirteen of those pitches were strikes. Three of them reached triple digits on the radar gun and five of them came up just a mile per hour short at 99.

A penny for your thoughts at that point, Pete Mackanin.

"It looked like he might be having one of his best nights," the Phillies manager said.

Syndergaard actually had a pretty good night. But the Phillies, as a team, had a better night and they managed to escape Citi Field with a 6-4 victory and just their third winning series against the Mets in the last 18 (see Instant Replay). The Phils' last series win over the Mets came in early April of last season.

"It sure is nice to win a series here against the Mets," Mackanin said. "It's always nice to win a series. But against these guys, it was special, as much as they've beat us up over the last year."

Syndergaard pitched seven innings and did not walk a batter while striking out 10. For the season, he has 30 strikeouts and no walks in 26 innings over four starts.

But the Phils, with the help of the Mets' sloppy defense, managed to get some baserunners and some big hits against Syndergaard. He gave up five runs, two of which were unearned.

Aaron Nola struggled to protect an early 5-1 lead but never relinquished it, and the bullpen was outstanding in locking down the win.

Lefty Joely Rodriguez got six huge outs to protect a one-run lead and Mackanin surprised folks by using Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning and Hector Neris in the ninth to close it out. 

Last week, Mackanin installed Benoit as closer after Jeanmar Gomez lost the job. Mackanin used the qualifier "for now," when announcing that Benoit would close. The "now" did not last too long. Benoit blew a save in Washington over the weekend and now Neris is getting a look. He has the stuff -- a power fastball, a good splitter and more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings last season -- to do the job.

"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said. "Over in Washington, I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with. I'll probably use Neris again. But it's nice to have somebody that when one guy's not available, the other guy is."

The Phillies' starting lineup included two guys -- Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph -- who entered the game hitting under .160. Syndergaard did not figure to be the best guy to get right against, but baseball is a funny game. Franco extended his career-long slump to 0 for 22 in the second inning but came back in the fourth with an RBI double -- a liner over the left fielder's head on a 97-mph fastball -- against Syndergaard in the third inning. In the eighth, Franco homered to left against Fernando Salas.

Meanwhile, Joseph had three hits, including an RBI double down the right-field line on a 100-mph heater in the second inning to score the Phillies' first run.

The Phils scored three in the second and two in the third against Syndergaard. In both innings, the Mets made costly errors. Andrew Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp and had an RBI double in the second inning.

"It's a tough chore," Mackanin said of facing Syndergaard. "We made him work. We scored early on him. It was great to see. He's a bulldog. He was still throwing 98 in the seventh inning. We just took advantage of some mistakes he made. I give the guys a lot of credit for battling him and not being intimidated.

"You never know what to expect. That's what's so unique about baseball."

Nola was not crisp. He had a ton of trouble putting hitters away with two strikes. He walked Syndergaard with two outs in the second inning after being up in the count, 0-2, and that came back to haunt him when Rene Rivera delivered an RBI single. In the third inning, Nola gave up a three-run homer to Neil Walker on an 0-2 curveball. That made it a 5-4 game.

"I had terrible two-strike pitches, especially 0-2," Nola said.

Nola lasted just five innings. He gave up seven hits and walked four as he ran a high pitch count. He got the win thanks to his mates' timely hitting and good bullpen work.

For the season, Nola has made three starts and given up 20 hits and eight earned runs in 16 innings. He has walked six and struck out 15.

Pete Mackanin pulls trigger on closer decision: Joaquin Benoit in, Jeanmar Gomez out

Pete Mackanin pulls trigger on closer decision: Joaquin Benoit in, Jeanmar Gomez out

If the Phillies need a closer Monday night, Joaquin Benoit will get the call.

As expected, manager Pete Mackanin removed Jeanmar Gomez from the role one day after he coughed up a three-run lead in the ninth inning of Sunday's game against the Washington Nationals.

Mackanin said he would use Benoit, a 39-year-old veteran of 16 big-league seasons, "for the time being." In other words, he'll have the role as long as he nails down saves or is traded.

In going with Benoit, Mackanin bypassed Hector Neris, who became a shutdown eighth-inning arm for the Phillies last season.

Neris, 27, will stay in that role.

"I don't want to put any unnecessary pressure on Neris for the time being," Mackanin said. "He had such a good year last year and is pretty valuable where he's at right now. He will most likely close at some point in his career. His time will come."

Benoit has pitched in just about every role there is during his career. He broke in as a starter with the Texas Rangers in 2001, moved full-time to the bullpen in 2006 and was a closer, saving 24 games, for Detroit in 2013.

Looking to improve their bullpen, the Phillies signed Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract in December. Benoit had been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball the previous seven seasons, posting a 2.40 ERA and a .0.98 WHIP from 2010 to 2016. Though he turns 40 in July, Benoit still throws in the mid-90s. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings from 2010 to 2016 and debuted with four strikeouts in his first three innings for the Phillies this season.

Benoit is one of a handful of Phillies players that could be traded as this season unfolds. Teams are always looking for bullpen help around the trade deadline. Pitching well in any bullpen role would help Benoit's value. Racking up a few saves won't hurt.

"I wasn't really expecting it this early, this change," Benoit said. "But it's the situation they have to address. I guess they have their choice and that was me.

"I enjoy being on the mound. I enjoy pitching. I'm not going to break any records. I'm not going to go for Mariano's (Rivera's) record or (Trevor) Hoffman's. I try to give the team an opportunity to get a win. That's what I'm going to try to do here.

"For me I try to make it simple. I'm not trying to make it harder than it is. It's three outs. Sometimes things don't go as well as we want them to. But I approach the game the same way. It doesn't matter if it's in the sixth or the ninth."

Gomez, 29, deserves respect for the job he did last season. When others failed and the Phils were searching to find a dependable closer, he stepped in and recorded 37 saves without the power stuff and high-strikeout octane that most closers possess. His pitch-to-contact style finally caught up with him in September and he lost the closer's job under the weight of an ERA over 19.00 that month.

Coming into spring training this year, Mackanin said Gomez deserved the first crack at the job and he did nothing to lose it in Florida. However, he gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning on opening day (the Phils survived to win, 4-3) then a three-run homer in squandering a 3-0 lead against Washington on Sunday. The Phils came back to win that game, 4-3, but Mackanin decided it was time to get Gomez out of the pressure cooker. He will likely return to the sixth- and seventh-inning setup role in which he shined in 2015, his first season with the Phillies.