On the list of encouraging signs for the Phillies last week, none ranked higher than back-to-back-to-back scoreless outings for embattled reliever Hector Neris.
Neris began the season as not only the Phillies’ closer but also one of the few reliable late-inning options for manager Joe Girardi. And as the rest of the bullpen imploded around him, Neris allowed 10 runs (seven earned) on eight hits and five walks in 3⅓ innings and blew three saves in an 11-day, five-appearance stretch from Aug. 11-22.
“Hector had some pretty bad luck,” Girardi said Sunday. “Some of the things that happened to Hector don’t always happen.”
Girardi was referring to the two-run bloop single that Neris allowed to Baltimore’s Pedro Severino on Aug. 11, and the RBI single through the right side of the infield that he gave up to the Mets’ Robinson Cano on Aug. 13, and the two errors that were committed behind him on Aug. 20.
But while Neris didn’t get hit particularly hard during that stretch, he didn’t pitch well enough to hold on to the closer role after the Phillies acquired Brandon Workman in an Aug. 21 trade with the Boston Red Sox. His last three appearances have come in the eighth inning with the Phillies leading by four runs, tied, and leading by three runs, and he has retired eight of 10 batters, including six in a row over his last two outings.
Neris looked particularly sharp Friday night when he retired Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud and Nick Markakis – the Braves’ No. 4-6 hitters – on 13 pitches, the last two via strikeouts.
“I think he feels better about himself,” Girardi said. “It was important for us to get him back on track because he’s an important part – a really important part – of that bullpen, and it’s great to see.”
Girardi said it’s a “real possibility” that left fielder/designated hitter Jay Bruce will be reinstated from the injured list Monday, 10 days after being sidelined by a left quadriceps strain.
There isn’t an obvious corresponding move involving a position player unless they option outfielder Adam Haseley to the satellite camp in Lehigh Valley. With Roman Quinn getting most of the playing time in center field, Haseley has started two games and gotten five plate appearances since he returned from the injured list on Aug. 22.
If the Phillies option a reliever instead, they would have a five-man bench and a 10-man bullpen, which might be sustainable considering their next doubleheader isn’t until Sept. 8.
But the Phillies likely will have to make a bullpen move early in the week anyway. Left-hander Ranger Suarez, who missed training camp while recovering from COVID-19, is expected to be recalled within the next few days after throwing a live bullpen session Sunday in Lehigh Valley.