Héctor Neris said his confidence would not be tested by the game-tying homer he allowed on Saturday in the ninth inning. And that must be music to Joe Girardi’s ears as the Phillies manager said Sunday -- a day after a crushing loss -- that Neris remains his closer.
“If you look at Héctor’s numbers before last night, they’re pretty darn good. We can make a lot of one outing,” Girardi said. “I know he’s lost some games, but it’s been a tie game with a runner on second with nobody out. I haven’t made any changes. I haven’t thought about making any changes. Héctor made a bad pitch last night. That can happen in the seventh, too. It really comes down to execution.”
Neris needed just one more strike Saturday night to close the game before pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval crushed a tying two-run homer. The Phillies blew two more saves before their 12-inning loss was complete, but they never got as close to a win as they did when Neris needed just one more strike.
“The game is over. The game is in the past,” Neris said. “Tomorrow is a new day.”
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Neris has been the team’s primary closer since 2017 and has converted 82% of his 93 save chances. That ranks 31st among pitchers with at least 10 saves since 2017. He’s six for eight this season in save chances and two of his three losses came after he entered in the ninth with the score tied.
Girardi had success piecing together the ninth inning last week when Neris was unavailable for two games following a 40-pitch outing. He used Sam Coonrod and José Alvarado to close two wins of the four-game sweep against Milwaukee. Brandon Kintzler was tied last season for the National League lead in saves and Connor Brogdon has the profile to eventually be a major-league closer.
The Phillies have options in their bullpen in the ninth inning, but Girardi said he’s not interested in using a committee approach.
“I’ve said all along that I prefer the roles and I prefer to have Jose Alvarado in a spot where I can unleash him when you’re facing the toughest left-handed hitters,” Girardi said. “Coonrod against right-handers and Kintzler against right-handers. It’s the reason we chose to do this.”
The pitch Sandoval beat Neris on Saturday was a four-seam fastball. Sandoval – a prolific fastball hitter in his 14-year career – is slugging .917 this season against four-seamers. But Neris said that’s the pitch he wanted to throw with two strikes instead of his signature splitter, which he threw for the first two pitches of the at-bat. Neris said he was throwing the fastball to setup a splitter. He never got a chance to use it again against Sandoval.
It was a brutal loss, but it wasn’t enough for Neris to lose his role.
“I wanted that pitch up. I missed it,” he said. “Missed it middle-middle. He had a good approach. He hit and you know he picked the right pitch. For him, right pitch. For me, wrong pitch. It was a pitch I just wanted to throw away and I missed it.”