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.

Phillies battle back but Bryce Harper breaks their spirit -- again

Phillies battle back but Bryce Harper breaks their spirit -- again

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper is just 24 years old and already it seems as if he's been killing the Phillies forever.
 
He did it again Sunday with a two-run homer in the third inning and a spirit-crushing three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth.
 
Harper's second homer of the day came with two outs in the ninth on a full-count fastball from new Phillies closer Joaquin Benoit. It turned a hard-fought, one-run Phillies' lead into a deflating 6-4 loss (see Instant Replay).

Harper's bomb hadn't even landed when Benoit started walking off the mound. He's 39 years old and has pitched in 718 big-league games. He knows when he gives up a walk-off shot.
 
"Fastball count. I threw him a fastball. He hit it out," said Benoit, who took over as closer after Jeanmar Gomez blew a ninth-inning lead against these same Nationals last weekend in Philadelphia.
 
Previously in his career, Benoit had held Harper hitless with a strikeout in five at-bats.
 
"I believe every hitter is dangerous," Benoit said. "If you throw a pitch they can handle they will do damage. I've had some success against him, but I made a mistake and he made me pay. No excuses."
 
The Phillies trailed 3-1 after Harper's two-run homer in the third. The score stayed that way most of the day until the Phillies rallied for two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to take a 4-3 lead.

Benoit got the first out in the bottom of the ninth but walked the next batter then allowed a single. He retired dangerous Anthony Rendon before Harper came to the plate. Benoit went at Harper with fastballs and Harper fouled off the first two to fall behind, 0-2, but Benoit could not put him away.
 
"I was trying to battle, took two good swings right there 0-0 and 0-1," Harper said. "You never want to get behind on a guy like that, but I battled the best I could and got into a pretty good count right there and got a good pitch to hit."
 
Harper admitted that he thought Benoit might throw a changeup with a full count. Benoit threw a 96 mph fastball and Harper quickly adjusted.
 
"I don't like to double-guess myself," Benoit said. "I take full responsibility. I wanted to throw a fastball. He hit it out."
 
Harper's game-winning homer to dead center was his fourth of the season and third in six games against the Phillies in 2017. In 86 career games against the Phillies, he has 18 home runs and 49 RBIs.
 
At his age, he could torture the Phillies into the 2030s.
 
Unless, of course, the Phillies put him in red pinstripes when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. Early estimates have put a $400 million price tag on Harper. The Phillies have the money and will spend on a big bat. Time will tell if it's Harper that they will spend on. For now, he just kills the Phillies.
 
"He's a tough out," Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff said. "He fouls off good pitches and he's ready for a mistake. That's all you can ask for in a hitter -- just a guy who is going to go up and take professional at bats. You have to be careful with him."
 
Harper's first homer came against Eickhoff on a first-pitch slider in the third inning. Eickhoff got the first two outs of the inning then had Rendon down 0-2 in the count, but couldn't put him away. Rendon reached on an infield hit. The play was reviewed and after a 100-second delay, Eickhoff missed his spot with the slider that Harper hit out.
 
"The delay didn't hurt me," Eickhoff said. "I missed my location by inches."
 
Eickhoff allowed back-to-back doubles in the first inning as he let a 1-0 lead get away. The Phils got that lead on a leadoff homer by Cesar Hernandez against Gio Gonzalez. The Phils did not score again until the eighth when they got hits from Hernandez, Daniel Nava and Tommy Joseph in tying the game. Washington left fielder Jayson Werth also made a key error in that frame.
 
The Phils turned a leadoff double by Aaron Altherr into the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth and were looking at a sweet win and two-out-of-three in the series before Harper blasted Benoit in the ninth.
 
"We're competing and playing hard," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Pitching kept us in the game. You hold a team to three runs like we did most of the game, you have a chance of winning some of those games.
 
"It's always demoralizing when you blow a lead especially when you come from behind. That's always disheartening."
 
It gets no easier now for the Phillies. The next three games are in New York against the Mets. The Phils are 12-29 against the Mets since the start of the 2015 season.