Hector Neris likely made your heart beat a little faster Thursday night, but he still got the job done. It hasn’t been easy this season for the Phillies bullpen, but it was able to finish a win against the Yankees and secure a split of the four-game series.

The Phillies won two games this week against one of baseball’s best teams. Not bad. Now they have the Braves coming to town for four games. It’s lining up to be an interesting weekend.

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— Matt Breen (mbreen@inquirer.com)

The Phillies hold a conversation on the mound with pitcher Tommy Hunter (96) in the seventh inning of a doubleheader agains the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Yankees won the second game, 3-1.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
The Phillies hold a conversation on the mound with pitcher Tommy Hunter (96) in the seventh inning of a doubleheader agains the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Yankees won the second game, 3-1.

Tommy Hunter said bullpen will figure it out

The Phillies bullpen allowed 17 runs in its first 16 2/3 innings and played a large hand in each of the team’s first four losses. But Tommy Hunter — the team’s most experienced reliever — said before Thursday’s game that it is too early to give up on the ‘pen.

“We have a good squad. We have good people in the clubhouse. We have a new manager, coaching staff, and everyone is getting along well,” Hunter said a day after facing five batters without recording an out in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Yankees. “That’s where you build something off of. When you have a group like we do here, I think special things are going to happen. Don’t hit that little red button so fast.”

A few hours later, Hunter’s fellow relievers provided some reasons for hope. Nick Pivetta gave up a two-run homer, but that was all the damage the bullpen allowed in five innings. Deolis Guerra, Jose Alvarez, and Hector Neris put up zeroes.

Neris provided the punctuation with a four-out save after entering with two outs in the eighth to face Aaron Judge with a runner on third and the Phillies ahead by a run. Neris struck him out. It wasn’t time to push the red button.

“Are we going to figure it out? Yes. I’m not at all worried,” Hunter said. “If you get off to a bad start in a 60-game season, it sucks. We haven’t pitched well — I haven’t pitched well — out of the bullpen. There’s been bright, shining stars and there’s been pretty bad moments. It’s early in baseball.”

Hunter was the lone major-league free agent the Phillies added this winter to their bullpen. So it was concerning Wednesday when his average fastball velocity dipped to just 91.2 m.p.h., 3 m.p.h. slower than it was last season. Hunter said the team’s medical staff is confident that he will regain his velocity. It’s a process, he said.

The 34-year-old underwent elbow surgery last July and missed most of summer camp after contracting the coronavirus in June during the team’s outbreak at its Clearwater, Fla. facility. It seemed that the virus might have sapped life from Hunter’s fastball.

“I don’t think anybody has enough information on it,” Hunter said of the virus. “If you blame something like that, people are going to say it’s a scapegoat and this and that. They hit the ball against me last night, and I woke up this morning and played baseball with my kids.”

The rundown

J.T. Realmuto supplied the power Thursday night and Hector Neris supplied the pivotal outs, Scott Lauber writes. Realmuto hit a three-run homer, and Neris picked up a four-out save to hold off the Yankees.

Just because there are no fans in the ballpark doesn’t mean the Phillies don’t have a home-field advantage. The Yankees complained during the game about the group of fans who were blaring an air horn outside Citizens Bank Park and then complained after the game about the team’s broadcasters talking too loud. Only in Philly could the team have a home-field advantage when the gates are locked during a pandemic.

The Phillies will finish the season with 20 games in 18 days after the games that were postponed because of COVID-19 were rescheduled, as Major League Baseball is motivated to have every team play a complete 60-game season. The Phillies will go to Miami in September for a seven-game — seven! — series in five days.

The Phillies need a starting pitcher for Sunday’s game, and Joe Girardi said the team knows who will be pitching. Could it be prospect Spencer Howard? “Stay tuned,” Girardi said.

Important dates

Today: Vince Velasquez starts as the Phillies open a four-game series against Atlanta, 7:05 p.m.

Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta faces the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, 6:05 p.m.

Sunday: Phils need a starter, and it might be Spencer Howard, 1:05 p.m.

Monday: Phillies finish a four-game series against Atlanta, 6:05 p.m.

J.T. Realmuto celebrating his first-inning three-run home run with teammate Bryce Harper against the Yankees on Thursday.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
J.T. Realmuto celebrating his first-inning three-run home run with teammate Bryce Harper against the Yankees on Thursday.

Stat of the day

J.T. Realmuto homered Thursday night for the third time this season, and all three have come with two strikes. Realmuto now has 16 homers with two strikes since the start of the 2019 season.

Entering Thursday, only five National League players had more two-strike homers since the beginning of 2019: Cincinnati’s Eugenio Suarez (20), the Mets’ Pete Alonso (19), St. Louis’ Paul Goldschmidt (18), Dodgers’ Max Muncy (18), and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich (17).

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: What ever happened to David Robertson? Is he going to pitch this year? — Jim S. from West Chester

Answer: Thanks, Jim. Robertson was bullish in spring training about returning this year despite having Tommy John surgery last August. It would be a quick return, but Robertson still hopes to pitch in 2020.

Girardi said before Thursday’s game that Robertson has recently thrown off a pitching mound, which is a good sign for Robertson’s chances to help the bullpen. He’ll be a free agent after the season.