Tag Archives: Nick Markakis

NL East Division position comparison: center field

My evaluation of the National League East Division teams moves to center field today as I continue to rank the Philadelphia Phillies and their divisional competitors on a position-by-position basis.

The Phillies had the top catcher in my rankings and the club’s projected starter ranked third in the division at each of first basesecond baseshortstop, third base, and in left field.

Right field will come on Wednesday, and then each club’s bench group will follow on Thursday. Over the weekend the projected starting pitching rotations, bullpens, and finally the managers will be covered.

Center field is currently not a glamour position within the division. There are a number of younger players being used by the clubs. Any of those players could still develop into a more impactful player in the coming years and vault up the list. That includes a couple of prospects in the minor leagues who aren’t likely to appear in the upcoming 2020 campaign.

Once this evaluation process is complete, Phillies fans should have a better idea as February arrives of where the team stands as spring training opens. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater on February 11, less than two weeks from now.

NL EAST – 2020 CENTER FIELD RANKINGS

1) Victor Robles, Washington Nationals: The Nationals had the clear front-runner in left field with Juan Soto, and the defending world champs also have that in center with Robles. Though it was the third season in which he made an appearance with the Nats, he was still rookie-eligible a year ago. Robles, who turns 23 in mid-May, finished 6th in the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year voting during a season in which he slashed .255/.326/.419 with 17 home runs, 53 extra-base hits, 65 RBIs, 86 runs, and 28 stolen bases. Robles is also an outstanding defender, leading all MLB center fielders – in fact all outfielders overall – in defensive runs saved last season. After finishing as a runner-up to Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain in 2019, Robles should eventually earn a number of Gold Glove Awards at the position.

2) Adam Haseley, Philadelphia Phillies: Haseley was a surprise emergency call-up by the Phillies last season who saw far more time in the big-leagues than ever originally envisioned. That promotion and playing time came due to the injuries suffered by Andrew McCutchen, Roman Quinn, and Jay Bruce and the Odubel Herrera domestic violence suspension. While he didn’t light the world on fire, neither did Haseley embarrass himself. In fact, no less an authority than the folks at Bill James Online named Haseley as their top defender for the month of September. He slashed .266/.324/.396 with five homers, 14 doubles, 26 RBIs, and 30 runs scored over 242 plate appearances across 67 games, 59 of those as starts. Haseley has been penciled in as new manager Joe Girardi‘s starter entering the season. He turns 24 in early April, and the 2017 first round draft pick could emerge as a legitimate difference-maker in the 2020 campaign.

3) Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets: Nimmo, who will turn 27-years-old as spring training comes to an end, missed nearly three-and-a-half months of the 2019 season due to a bulging disk in his neck. Finally returning to the lineup in September, Nimmo slashed .261/.430/.565 with five homers, 10 extra-base hits, 15 RBIs, and 14 runs scored over the final month as the Mets went 17-10. Jake Marisnick, who turns 29 at the end of March, was signed as a free agent. A far better defender than Nimmo, Marisnick could take some playing time away here, especially in late-game situations.

4) Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves: The 29-year-old Inciarte was the center field starter in Atlanta during the 2016-18 seasons. After beginning the season as the starter once again last year, Inciarte began suffering what turned out to be a series of injuries. A bad back at first cost him a couple of months, and then injuries to the quads in both of his legs finally ended his season early. The Braves could slide Ronald Acuna Jr.over to start in center field and use either Adam Duvall or Nick Markakis in right field. But while Acuna would excel anywhere on defense, the club’s overall best defensive outfield would have Inciarte in center with Acuna in right. Another factor to keep an eye on is that the Braves have a pair of hot outfield prospects who could be ready quickly in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters. Either could push for a starting role before 2020 is over.

5) Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins: Many felt that Brinson was prepared to break out as a leading NL Rookie of the Year candidate with Miami in 2018 after he arrived from Milwaukee as part of the four-prospect package in January of that year for Christian Yelich. However, Brinson underwhelmed as a 24-year old. He returned last season, but rather than take a step forward, he seriously slid back, demoted to the minor leagues after hitting just .197 with no offensive impact over the 2019 season’s first month. After returning on August 5, Brinson didn’t fare any better, slashing only .160/.230/.200 with just five extra-base hits and no stolen bases over 166 plate appearances across 48 games. The Fish have a trio of talented outfield prospects rushing through their system in Monte Harrison, Jesus Sanchez, and JJ Bleday, and all three could be starting by some point in the 2021 season. But only Harrison, who also arrived as part of that Yelich trade with Milwaukee, is really a center fielder, and he lost time a year ago with a wrist injury. Brinson will likely get a long look this year in hopes that his raw talent will finally translate into on-field results.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

NL East Division position comparison: left field

My continuing position-by-position evaluation of the National League East Division teams moves to the outfield today after previously covering and ranking the entire infield.

The Philadelphia Phillies had the top catcher in the rankings and the club’s projected starter finished third in the division at each of first basesecond baseshortstop, and third base.

The outfield coverage begins in left field today. Over the next couple of days, I’ll move across to center field and then over to right field. As we get to the weekend, I’ll cover each club’s projected starting pitching rotation, their benches, bullpens, and finally the managers.

Once this evaluation process is complete, fans should have a better idea as February arrives of where each team in the division stands. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Clearwater, Florida for Phillies spring training on February 11, just about two weeks from now.

NL EAST – 2020 LEFT FIELD RANKINGS

1) Juan Soto, Washington Nationals: Just 21 years of age, Soto is one of the best young players in baseball. He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award to the player who is likely to appear in a couple of days at the top of the right field ranking. Last season, Soto upped his game, blasting 34 home runs with 71 extra-base hits, 110 RBIs, 110 runs scored and a dozen stolen bases while fashioning a .282/.401/.548 slash line. He then came through in the Nationals October 2019 run to their first-ever World Series crown, slashing .273/.373/.554 with five homers and 14 RBIs in the postseason. Just an average defender, Soto may never win a Gold Glove, but he doesn’t hurt the Nats in that regard. Soto looks right now as if he could sit atop this positional list for years to come.

2) Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves:  A solid offensive contributor and left field defender, Ozuna hung out on the free agent market for way too long this off-season. The Braves took advantage, scooping him up a week ago with a one-year, $18 million deal that will allow Ozuna to reset his value for another run at the market a year from now. Meanwhile, Atlanta will be the beneficiaries for at least the 2020 campaign during which the two-time NL All-Star will play at age 29. He has a .272 career average over seven big-league seasons, and a year ago produced 29 homers with 89 RBIs and 80 runs scored while helping lead the Saint Louis Cardinals to the NL Central crown. Atlanta also has a pair of solid veterans in Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall on their roster to cover the position effectively should injury strike.

3) Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies: So much of this ranking depends on ‘Cutch’ fully bouncing back from the devastating knee injury and subsequent surgery that ended his first Phillies season in early June. The former NL MVP and five-time All-Star is not that level of performer any longer. However, prior to the injury he had a .378 on-base percentage as the Phillies leadoff hitter, and had produced 10 homers, 12 doubles, 29 RBIs, and 45 runs scored in just 262 plate appearances. I wrote a piece at the start of this month asking what we should expect from him in the coming season. Let’s hope that his reply below is what we actually get in 2020. If there are any recurring or lingering injury issues, Jay Bruce and Nick Williams would try to pick up the slack.

4) Corey Dickerson, Miami Marlins: The Phillies obtained Dickerson from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last season in an attempt to remain in the playoff race after both McCutchen and Bruce had suffered injuries. He was one of the few bright spots for the club before suffering his own season-ending injury in mid-September. Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers, 20 extra-base hits and a staggering 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances over 34 games with the Phillies in 2019. That performance and a solid seven-year big-league career earned him a two-year, $17.5 million deal with the rebuilding Fish. He turns 31 years of age in late May and should give them a solid return on their investment if he stays healthy.

5) J.D. Davis, New York Mets: There remains a certain segment of the organization and fan base still hopes Yoenis Cespedes will be healthy and return to some semblance of his All-Star days. Now at age 34 and having missed most of the last two years with injuries, that is highly unlikely. Davis made 79 starts in left during the 2019 season, his first with the Mets after coming in a five-player deal with Houston at this time a year ago. He has the ability to make this bottom ranking look a bit foolish if it all comes together. Davis slashed .307/.369/.527 and delivered 22 homers, 22 doubles, 57 RBIs, and 65 runs scored over 453 plate appearances in 2019. He could end up at least in the middle of these rankings by the end of the upcoming season. If he instead falters, odds are that Dominic Smith would fare better as a replacement than any Cespedes pipe dream.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Phillies visit Braves for a June 2019 first-place showdown series

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’KuDnjMSfSrJfJIMcvopt3w’,sig:’ckETfwIXwX6Av1Fq6X45zi6DE3smJEz7qg0j0OJnIOM=’,w:’594px’,h:’376px’,items:’949776406′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

Phillies visit SunTrust Park for big series with Braves

The Philadelphia Phillies (38-30) sat alone at the top of the National League East Division standings for seven straight weeks, covering every day from April 25 through last weekend.

Losses in eight of their last 13 games, including three of their four games so far this week, opened the door for the Atlanta Braves (40-29) to make a move.
The Braves took full advantage, winning 10 of their last 12 to surge past the Phillies and into first place in the division. Atlanta is now riding a seven-game winning streak.
The two rivals will meet for the second time this year over the weekend, and the NL East Division lead will be directly on the line. The site will be SunTrust Park in Atlanta this time, after the Phillies swept the Braves out of Citizens Bank Park in the season’s very first series back in late March.
The Braves have performed far better statistically in the 2019 season. Their 5.17 runs-per-game ranks fifth in the National League, while the Phillies 4.87 is the league’s seventh-ranked mark. At the plate, the Braves out-rank the Phillies in OPS (4-9), home runs (5-11), and stolen bases (8-15) in the NL.

On the mound among the 15 NL teams, the Braves out-rank the Phillies in batting average against (7-13) and OPS against (9-13), though Phillies hurlers have a slightly better ERA.
The Phillies just got reliever Edubray Ramos back from the Injured List, and hope to have reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Roman Quinn back for this series.
This is an early gut-check for the Phillies. Struggling for the last couple of weeks, they now look up in the standings at their weekend hosts. They will have to listen to Braves fans doing the obnoxious ‘Tomahawk Chop’ any time the home team does anything positive. How the Phillies respond to this challenge over the next three days will reveal much about their own collective character.

ATLANTA BRAVES

TOP LINEUP THREATS

Freddie Freeman: The 10-year veteran first baseman is well on his way to a fourth NL All-Star nod, slashing .311/.401/.592 and leading the Braves with 18 homers, 37 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs, and 49 runs scored.
Nick Markakis: 35-year-old, 14-year big-league veteran right fielder is slashing .276/.368/.431 with 35 RBIs. He is second on the club with 43 runs scored.
Ronald Acuna Jr. The 21-year-old center fielder was last year’s NL Rookie of the Year and is not suffering a sophomore slump. He is slashing .285/.365/.493 and is second on the team with 15 homers and 45 RBIs and leads them with nine steals.
Dansby Swanson: 25-year-old shortstop has broken out with 13 homers, 27 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, 42 runs scored, and six stolen bases.
Ozzie Albies: 22-year-old second baseman has 10 homers, 26 extra-base hits, 41 runs scored, and five steals.
Austin Riley: The NL’s Rookie of the Month for May, the 22-year-old rookie left fielder is hitting .290 with a .617 slugging percentage and has 10 homers and 29 RBIs even though he wasn’t called up until May 15.
Brian McCann: 35-year-old, 15-year big-league veteran catcher is the lefty side of an almost straight platoon. He is hitting .272 with five homers and 24 RBIs in just 134 plate appearances.

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER

Josh Donaldson: A 33-year-old, nine-year big-league veteran third baseman, Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the Braves as a free agent back in late November. The 2015 AL MVP while with the Toronto Blue Jays is a 3x American League All-Star and has a pair of Silver Slugger Awards on his mantlepiece.
Donaldson has been a bit of a disappointment with Atlanta, slashing just .236/.349/.419 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. After starring with the Blue Jays, Donaldson suffered through an injury-marred season a year ago and was dealt to the Cleveland Indians, helping the Tribe to the AL Central crown with a solid performance down the stretch.
There is every chance that Donaldson is simply a one-year rental for Atlanta, with Riley taking over at his own more natural position beginning next season. For now, having Donaldson bust out with anything resembling his former Toronto MVP form would be a major boost to the already dangerous Braves lineup.

SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS

FRIDAY – Max Fried (25/L): 7-3, 3.75 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, 74 hits over 72 IP across 15 games (13 starts) with a 66/19 K:BB
SATURDAY – Sean Newcomb (26/L): 1-0, 2.59 ERA, 1.340 WHIP, 32 hits over 31.1 IP across 19 games (3 starts) with a 26/10 K:BB
SUNDAY – Mike Foltynewicz (27/R): 1-5, 6.02 ERA, 1.318 WHIP, 52 hits over 49.1 IP across nine starts with a 42/13 K:BB

KEY BENCH & BULLPEN PIECES

Tyler Flowers: splits the catching duties with McCann as the right-handed hitting half. Flowers has five homers and 11 extra-base hits over just 138 plate appearances.
Johan Camargo: 25-year-old was the Braves starting third baseman a year ago, but has become a utility player this year with the addition of Donaldson. He has been used at five different defensive positions and has 10 extra-base hits over 128 plate appearances.
Matt Joyce: 34-year-old, 12-year big-league veteran is a nice lefty bat off the bench with nine extra-base hits over just 75 plate appearances. He was a 2011 AL All-Star while with Tampa Bay.
Charlie Culberson: Utility man is slashing .354/.396/.625 over just 53 plate appearances with a half-dozen extra-base hits.
Luke Jackson: The 27-year-old righty has taken the Braves closer job and produced 10 saves with a 3.18 ERA and 1.235 WHIP. He has allowed 33 hits over 34 innings with a 49/9 K:BB ratio.
Josh Tomlin: Former starter with the Cleveland Indians, the 34-year-old, 10-year big-league veteran righty has allowed 31 hits over 35 innings across 23 appearances with a 22/3 K:BB.
A.J. Minter: Hard-throwing 25-year-old lefty could one day be the club’s closer. He was just activated earlier this week after spending nearly a month on the IL, and has struck out 18 over 13 innings this season.
Jacob Webb: 25-year-old right-hander has allowed 17 hits over 19.1 innings with a 20/10 K:BB.

THE SKIPPER

Brian Snitker is a 63-year-old who has been in the Braves organization in one role or another for more than four decades, starting as a player and winding through the minor league coaching ranks. He served as the Braves bullpen coach in the late-1980’s, and was their third base coach from 2007-13.
In May 2016, Snitker was named as the interim manager to replace Fredi Gonzalez, who was fired with the club in last place. Five months later he was named the full-time skipper and is now in his third full season at the helm. He guided the club to the NL East crown a year ago, losing in four games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an NLDS.

THE BALLPARK

This is now the Braves third season playing at the ballpark, which is located in Cumberland, Cobb County, just 10 miles from the downtown Atlanta area. The ballpark is named for the local SunTrust Bank in a 25-year naming rights deal. A merger of that bank with BB&T will result in an eventual name change following this season.
SunTrust is billed as having the highest percentage of seats closer to the field than any ballpark in Major League Baseball. There is also air conditioning piped to every level of the ballpark to help during the hot Atlanta summer days.
There is a Monument Garden area displaying highlights of the franchise history. It is located in the concourse behind home plate, and features a statue of Baseball Hall of Fame living legend Hank Aaron, who played with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves for 21 seasons.
Dimensions down the line are 335 feet to left, 325 feet to right. The power alleys are roughly 375 (RC) and 385 (LC) feet, out to a 400-foot dead-center field wall. In the 2019 season, SunTrust ranks behind only Coors Field in Denver, Colorado and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio in ESPN’s ‘Park Factors‘ as an offensive-leaning ballpark.

SERIES WEATHER REPORT

FRIDAY: sunny and upper-70’s at 7:20 pm first pitch with light winds and almost zero chance of rain
SATURDAY: partly cloudy and low-80’s at 7:20 pm first pitch with light winds and almost zero chance of rain
SUNDAY: mostly sunny and mid-80s at 1:20 pm first pitch with light winds and just a 5% chance of rain
(Forecast supplied via The Weather Channel)

Game Preview and Notes: Braves at Phillies 3/30/2019

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’5GozL3FxQ_FZMYqzCivJ9g’,sig:’gUX8g6McRhJjp_oFiu-7MV_0eFYZYL-_1YWQ7t4VoLw=’,w:’594px’,h:’378px’,items:’942395984′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

Nick Pivetta takes the mound for the Phillies 

It would be hard to top the performance put on by the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Day. And yet, incredibly, there still remains room for improvement with this team as they prepare to welcome fans back to South Philly for game two of 162 on Saturday afternoon.

The Phillies (1-0) crushed the defending National League Eastern Division champion Atlanta Braves (0-1) by a 10-4 score on Thursday afternoon. The sellout crowd of 44,469 watched their heroes power their way to victory by driving three home runs, one each from Andrew McCutchen (in his first official Phillies plate appearance), Maikel Franco and Rhys Hoskins.
Those 10 runs marked the most scored by the club on Opening Day since the 2014 team out-slugged the Texas Rangers by 14-10 at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Phillies had never treated a home opener crowd at Citizens Bank Park to a double-digit display such as that in the prior 15-year history of the ballpark.
To find the last Phillies double-digit scoring spree in a home opener you would have to go all the way back to April 12, 1991 at Veteran’s Stadium when Lenny DykstraDarren Daulton and John Kruk powered the Phillies to an 11-4 victory over the Saint Louis Cardinals. On that Friday night they knocked the Cards lefty starter out after two innings, touching him for five runs and seven hits. That pitcher’s name? Jamie Moyer.
So, how can the Phillies improve on that performance? For one, despite the power display they only managed seven total hits, taking advantage of six walks from the Braves hurlers. Newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto each went hitless at 0-3 in their debut with the team.
On the mound, while Aaron Nola was dominant at times he also walked five batters himself. He was followed to the mound by Hector Neris and David Robertson, who each threw an inning and combined to allow three earned runs on four hits and a walk while striking out no one.

SATURDAY OPPOSITION LINEUP and PREVIEW

The Phillies will face a rookie hurler making just his second big-league start on Saturday. No matter the makeup of any particular year’s club, the team has historically struggled against such arms. It would be great to see them pick him apart this afternoon.
On the mound for the Phillies will be Nick Pivetta, the darling of sabermetricians and one of this year’s popular breakout player picks by national media. Consistent solid outings from the 26-year-old right-hander will be just as important to the success of this year’s team as the new, high-powered offense.
Over the course of a 162-game regular season schedule there are going to be plenty of good days and bad days. The very best teams in baseball are going to lose around 60 games or so. You won’t always be at your best, and even when you are there is another team on the field trying to win as well, one that might be playing well itself.
This is a far deeper and more talented ball club than took the field last season. As we prepare for the second game of a long season it remains important for fans not to get too high or too low with every single game, streak or slump. But the excitement surrounding this Philadelphia Phillies ball club is wholly warranted.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

  • Pivetta (2018: 7-14, 4.77 ERA) vs. Bryse Wilson (2018: 1-0, 6.43 ERA)
  • Pivetta career stats vs. Braves: 8 GS, 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA
  • Wilson career stats vs. Phillies: n/a

PHILLIES NUGGETS PRE-GAME NOTES

  • In 29 career games on the Citizens Bank Park mound, Pivetta has a .249 batting average against. The righty has surrendered 143 hits over 151.1 innings with a 184/43 K:BB ratio. He has also been touched for 28 home runs.
  • Wilson was a fourth round pick by the Braves in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. The right-hander will be making just his fourth big-league appearance, his second start. Won his only other starting assignment last August 20 at Pittsburgh, going five shutout innings allowing three hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Became youngest pitcher to ever win a 1-0 game in their big-league debut. Currently Atlanta’s #7 ranked prospect.
  • Harper has slashed .276/.393/.515 over 113 career games vs Atlanta. His 25 homers against the Braves are his most vs any MLB opponent.
  • Nick Markakis has slashed .294/.400/.471 vs Pivetta and is the only Braves current batter to hit a home run off him.
  • Following Sunday afternoon’s game the Phillies have an off-day on Monday before heading to Washington for the Nationals home opener on Tuesday. A quick two-game set will mark Harper’s first trip back to D.C., where he played his first seven seasons. Should make for an, uh, interesting couple of games. Club then returns for a six-game homestandwhich wraps with another three vs Washington.

SATURDAY’S PROGRAMMING INFORMATION

  • First Pitch: 4:05 p.m.
  • Location: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA
  • TV: FS1, NBCSP+
  • Pre-game special: NBCSP+ at 2PM: “Signing Harper”, well-made breakdown on the Phillies off-season process
  • Radio: SportsRadio WIP, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)

Strong 2018 finish has Hector Neris stock up entering Phillies 2019 campaign

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’G6nFIZpvRAxpLIJo5P2BHg’,sig:’VK8EJw1hUCzch002V7V7kMJjoRS0uEGJ1-1s0Gq9vOs=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’1031719450′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

Neris was back to his shutdown self in 2018’s second half

Growing up in Villa Altagracia in the San Cristobal province of the Dominican Republic, Hector Neris was a gifted athlete who enjoyed utilizing both his physical and mental gifts.

While enjoying the physical competition on the baseball diamond and on both volleyball and basketball courts, Neris also enjoyed testing and stretching his mind as an avid chess player.
On April 29, 2010 the Phillies signed Neris as a 20-year-old international free agent. Over the next three years the right-hander would prove that he was durable and that the had the ability to overpower minor league hitters.
From 2010-14 as he worked his way up progressively through each stop in the system, Neris struck out 363 opposition batters across 353.2 innings over 191 games.
Beginning with a one-game audition in August 2014, Neris has appeared with the big-league Phillies in each of the last five seasons. His performances in 2016-17 appeared to cement him as the club’s long-term closer. Over those two years, Neris allowed just 127 hits across 155 innings over 153 games while compiling a cumulative 188/56 K:BB ratio. He also served in a key role out of the Dominican Republic bullpen during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
But then from the very outset of the 2018 season, Neris saw very different results. It all began in the season opener in Atlanta. After retiring two of the first three batters, and following an intentional walk to Freddie Freeman, Neris surrendered a three-run, walk-off home run to Nick Markakis.
Neris was strong over his next three outings, striking out four and walking none over three shutout innings while recording his first Save of the season. However, in his fifth outing with the Phillies leading the Cincinnati Reds by 3-2 at Citizens Bank Park he surrendered three straight hits to start the top of the 9th to tie the game. The Phillies would win in 12 innings, but Neris had blown a Save opportunity.
Over the next few weeks, Neris would have few clean innings, and appeared to genuinely be losing confidence on the mound. By the end of June he had surrendered 35 hits over 30 innings, including an incredible 11 home runs. He had an unsightly .292 batting average against, and hitters had a huge .981 OPS against him.
Neris still had good stuff, as revealed by his 41/11 K/BB ratio. But he was simply making too many bad pitches. The Phillies had seen enough and sent him back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to try and regain his confidence.
The demotion clearly woke him up. Neris overpowered minor league hitters with a 31/7 K:BB ratio over 19 innings. He had a 1.45 ERA and allowed just nine hits across 18.2 innings. Perhaps most importantly he kept the ball in the park, allowing no home runs.
Phillies brass noticed the results and were receiving strong reports from the IronPigs coaching staff, and Neris was recalled in mid-August for another shot with the big club. It was as if the ugly results of the first-half of his season had been completely forgotten.
From August 15 through the end of the regular season, while the rest of the team was falling apart, Neris fully demonstrated that he was back to his old, dominating self. Over his final 20 games following his return he allowed just 11 hits over 17.2 innings for a .172 batting average against with a phenomenal 35/5 K:BB ratio. Neris also continued his progress from the minors by allowing no home runs.
For his fantastic performance, Neris was named as the National League’s reliever of the month for August even though he only pitched during half of the month. His overall 14.3 K/9 rate was baseball’s second-highest over the 2018 season.

Per Matt Breen at Philly.com, manager Gabe Kapler noticed a difference on his return. “What we saw is a guy who seemed a little bit more confident in his fastball,” Kapler said. “I think we saw a guy who was confident overall. The eye test tells me he used his fastball a little bit more and that he was even more effective with his split.
During the early weeks of this Grapefruit League season down in Florida, Neris has tossed four innings over four games. He has surrendered four hits and a pair of earned runs, striking out five and walking two as he works to get ready for the 2019 season.
The Phillies have an improved bullpen entering the 2019 campaign. Veteran right-handers David Robertson and Juan Nicasio and left-handers James Pazos and Jose Alvarez join a group that also includes returnees Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan and youngsters Seranthony DominguezVictor Arano and Edubray Ramos. There will not be enough room to keep all of them when the club breaks camp and heads north for the March 28 regular season opener.
Can Neris regain the closer role that he lost with his poor first-half in 2018? He certainly still has that kind of stuff. If he pitches the way that he did over the final seven weeks last year he may force the Phillies decision-makers to consider that possibility long and hard.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as Hector Neris looks to carry his strong 2019 finish over to a new season