NEW YORK -- Two days after a bullpen meltdown that won’t soon be forgotten at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies made a flurry of roster moves, including the addition of a former All-Star closer for a pennant-winning team.
But the biggest change Friday was at least two weeks in the making.
The Phillies removed Héctor Neris from the closer role before a doubleheader here against the division-leading New York Mets. Hard-throwing lefty José Alvarado will get most of the save opportunities for now, manager Joe Girardi said, even after blowing his first chance by allowing an unearned run in the opener, a 2-1 loss to the Mets.
In a twist, the Phillies had to use Neris for a save in the finale after stand-in closer Archie Bradley blew a late lead by giving up an unearned run. Neris picked up the final three outs in a 2-1 win.
“I’m going to close with Alvy,” Girardi said after the doubleheader. “That’s what I’m going to do for the most part. We have to get Héctor on track. He was great today. He was fantastic. He’s still going to pitch meaningful outs. Right now, that’s our plan.”
Neris gave up a go-ahead, two-run single to Washington’s Starlin Castro in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 13-12 loss in which the Phillies also blew a five-run lead in the fifth inning and a four-run cushion in the sixth. After going 9-for-11 in save opportunities and posting a 1.90 ERA through June 6, Neris coughed up three of his last four chances and had a 12.46 ERA in five appearances entering Friday night.
“I think it just comes down to location with Héctor,” Girardi said. “If he’s throwing his split for strikes, then he can expand with [the fastball]. It’s just been a little bit of a struggle. He just hasn’t been as sharp as he was early on, so we’ve got to get him back to where he was.”
Neris said this week that he’s “behind the manager” if Girardi decided to displace him as the closer. It isn’t the first time in his career that this has happened. Last season, in fact, he came out of the role after blowing three saves in nine days but was reinstalled as the closer in late September and went 2-for-2 in save opportunities down the stretch.
The Phillies also placed hard-throwing right-hander Sam Coonrod on the injured list with right forearm tendinitis and designated reliever David Hale for assignment.
Coonrod reported discomfort after a June 15 outing in Los Angeles. He felt better after not pitching for seven days but had a recurrence of the problem Wednesday after walking three of five batters he faced in the sixth inning against Washington. Hale gave up a grand slam to Josh Bell in that inning, hiking his ERA to 6.41 in 17 appearances.
To replace them, the Phillies purchased the contract of former Texas Rangers closer Neftalí Feliz, who had a 1.26 ERA in 15 appearances at triple-A Lehigh Valley, and recalled infielder Nick Maton.
Feliz, a 33-year-old right-hander, had 72 saves to help the Rangers to back-to-back American League pennants in 2010-11. But injuries, including Tommy John elbow surgery, conspired to keep him from pitching in the majors since 2017 with Kansas City.
The Phillies were impressed with Feliz’s fastball-slider combination in Lehigh Valley. His fastball registered in the 94-97-mph range, a sign to the Phillies that he’s healthy at last.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was a difficult time for me,” said Feliz, who signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies after pitching in winter ball in the Dominican Republic. “But I enjoyed the time with my family. I always kept my head up. I had the confidence in myself, so I knew if I worked hard, this could happen.”
Girardi said it’s “way too early” to consider Feliz as a closer option.
In time, Neris could regain his job, too, just as he did last season after fixing his problems during a stretch of appearances in lower-leverage situations.
“I think he still wants to be our closer,” Girardi said. “Héctor did it for me last year. We went through this last year and then Héctor was really good in those situations. He’s a real team player, and he’ll do whatever we ask. He doesn’t necessarily like what’s happening, and I wouldn’t expect him to.”
Spencer for hire
After being skipped in the last turn through the rotation, rookie Spencer Howard is in line to start Monday night’s makeup game in Cincinnati, according to Girardi. The Phillies are hoping to use rookie lefty Bailey Falter in that game, too.
Howard is 0-2 with a 4.05 ERA in four starts since being recalled from triple A last month. He has allowed only six hits and racked up 15 strikeouts, but his command has come and gone (10 walks in 13⅓ innings). Howard also has had difficulty maintaining his velocity. He hasn’t recorded an out after the fourth inning or thrown more than 68 pitches in a start.
With Howard set to start against the Reds, Vince Velasquez will have an extra day of rest before facing the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
After going 2-for-2 with an RBI double and playing five innings at shortstop Thursday night in triple A, Didi Gregorius (elbow) is scheduled to play Saturday and Sunday for Lehigh Valley. “Our plan was to go maybe a little slower in the beginning before we ramp it up,” Girardi said of Gregorius, who hasn’t played since May 12. “But we’re encouraged with where he’s at.” ... Reliever Brandon Kintzler (neck) was set to begin a rehab assignment at Lehigh Valley. ... Outfielder Matt Joyce (back) was scratched from his first game of a rehab assignment for low-A Clearwater with a minor setback. ... Backup catcher Andrew Knapp (concussion) may be cleared to resume playing Sunday, according to Girardi. ... Reliever Enyel De Los Santos rejoined the Phillies as the 27th player for the doubleheader. ... Zach Eflin (2-6, 4.39 ERA) will start Saturday against Mets ace-of-all-aces Jacob deGrom (7-2, 0.50 ERA), who hasn’t allowed a run in 30 consecutive innings. DeGrom is 8-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 18 career starts against the Phillies.