Tag Archives: Seranthony Dominguez

The story of the 2019 Phillies to date is one of blown opportunities

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So, you are a Phillies fan, and you are exhausted after Friday night’s 15-inning, 4-3 loss to one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball, the Chicago White Sox.

One strike away from victory, the Phillies blew it. The offense left 15 runners on base and went just 2-13 with runners in scoring position. The bullpen coughed up the late lead in the 9th inning. Manager Gabe Kapler‘s decisions resulted in outfielder Roman Quinn having to pitch two innings, ultimately getting hung with the loss.
If you are anything like me, you are completely exasperated with the way this team has lost many games this season. It feels as if there have been a dozen games or more in which the Phillies should have won, but somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Well, I decided to actually go through the grueling ordeal of researching it. And looking back over the 2019 results shows that we are correct in our feelings. It’s not just that the Phillies have blown games that they should have won, they have also won a ton of tight games. The club has been involved in more than their share of close contests this season.
The Phillies have suffered 18 losses by two runs or fewer, and have been walked-off five times. On the flip side, they have 25 wins by two runs or less, with four walk-off victories. That makes 43 of the Phillies 109 games, nearly 40%, as having been extremely tight affairs.
In many of those losses, the Phillies had a late lead. In each of the following 17 games, fans would not need to apologize if they felt that the club missed a golden opportunity at a victory. These are the 17 games, 11 of them coming at home at Citizens Bank Park, that have caused the collective blood pressure to rise.
In the vast majority of these cases, the bullpen blew a late lead or failed in a tie game. However, in a few of them, greater success by the offense earlier in the game would have kept the pen out of the equation.
Nailing down the win in just under half of these games, simply going 8-9 rather than losing them all, would have the Phillies sitting at 65-44, a game up on Atlanta in the division and seven games clear of the NL Wildcard pack. If you have the stomach for it, let’s relive the excruciating details together.

HALF-DOZEN APRIL CRUSHERS

Wednesday, April 3 at Washington: This was the first loss of the season. The Phillies were 4-0, having swept the Braves and taken out the Nats by 8-2 in a series opener. They had outscored those two teams by a 31-13 margin. In this one at Nationals Park, the Phillies rallied to score four runs in the top of the 8th inning to take an 8-6 lead. But then Seranthony Dominguez surrendered a pair in the bottom of the 8th to tie it up. In the bottom of the 9th, David Robertson surrendered a leadoff base hit, then walked three straight batters to walk in the winning run.
Saturday, April 6 vs Twins at CBP: This was the club’s second loss of the season, just three days after the Nats debacle. The Phillies trailed in this one by 3-2 after the offense had left runners on base a couple of times. They would have one more shot in the bottom of the 9th inning. But before it ever got there, Dominguez surrendered a back-breaking three-run homer to Eddie Rosario in the top of the final frame, giving the Twins a 6-3 victory.
Tuesday, April 9 vs the Nationals at CBP: The third loss of the young season was yet another heart-breaker. The Phillies led this one 6-1 after five innings at home with Aaron Nola on the mound. But their ace would struggle in the early going this season, and this was one of those times. After he had allowed just two runs and five hits through six innings, the Nats got to Nola for a pair of 7th inning homers to cut their deficit to 6-5. Then with two outs and two strikes in the top of the 9th, Juan Soto homered off Edubray Ramos to tie it up. It would not be the last time that the Phillies bullpen would blow a game just one strike away from victory. Washington would whack Jose Alvarez around, scoring four times in the top of the 10th to win 10-6. The Phillies offense failed to score over the final six frames after building that early 6-1 lead.
Monday, April 15 vs Mets at CBP: Every time the visiting Mets scored, the Phillies had an answer. The Phils tied it when Mets pitching walked four batters, including walking in the tying run in the bottom of the 8th with two outs. Bryce Harper then stepped to the plate, but popped up, missing a chance to push the lead runs across. In the bottom of the 10th, Jean Segura struck out with the winning run at second and two outs. The rivals went to the 11th inning still tied at 6-6. The Mets put two men on with two outs and Pat Neshek on the mound. Then, an error by Rhys Hoskins on a grounder allowed what would prove to be the winning run to score. Harper, Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto each struck out swinging in the bottom of the inning to end it.
Friday April 19 at Colorado: Vince Velasquez was shutting out the host Rockies at Coors Field into the 6th with the Phillies leading 2-0. But he gave up a one-out homer and a pair of two-out doubles, and the game was tied at 2-2. The Phillies offense failed to score after the 5th, and the teams moved into the 12th still tied at 2-2. In the top of the 12th, Harper’s clutch two-out RBI double put the Phils on top 3-2. But in the bottom of the 12th, Juan Nicasio surrendered a two-out, two-strike, walkoff home run to Charlie Blackmon to blow it.
Thursday April 25 vs Miami at CBP: The Phillies took an early 1-0 lead on a solo homer from Sean Rodriguez in the bottom of the 2nd inning. It was the only run they would score. The Marlins tied it in the top of the 3rd off Nola, and the game remained 1-1 into the 10th inning. Hector Neris retired the first two Miami batters. But then he allowed a two-out, two-strike double to Neil Walker followed by a two-strike, two-run homer to Starlin Castro to give Miami a 3-1 lead. The Phillies went out 1-2-3 in their half and suffered yet another home heartbreaker.

PAIR OF MAYDAY CALLS

Saturday, May 4 vs Washington at CBP: With the game tied at 3-3 into the 7th, the Nats scored twice to take the lead. But the Phillies offense responded immediately on this night, scoring five times in the bottom to take an 8-5 lead. In the top of the 8th, Neshek put two runners on base, and with two outs he was lifted for Adam Morgan. The lefty promptly surrendered a game-tying home run to Kurt Suzuki, and then a go-ahead homer to the very next batter, Victor Robles. The Nats tacked on one more in the 9th off Ramos, and escaped with a 10-8 win in South Philly.
Tuesday, May 21 at Wrigley Field vs the Cubs: After blowing that game against Washington, the Phillies recovered to begin one of their best runs of the season, winning 10 of 15 to move out to a 2.5 game division lead. In the second game of their series at Wrigley Field, the Phils suffered what would be just their second truly blown opportunity of the month of May. Leading 2-1 into the bottom of the 9th inning, Nicasio loaded the bases with one out. The Cubs then tied it on a fielder’s choice in which Kris Bryant was nearly thrown out at the plate. The Cubs then did the ending, when Javier Baez drilled a first-pitch walkoff single.

HALF-DOZEN MORE DURING JUNE SWOON

Saturday, June 1 at Dodger Stadium: Still in first place themselves, the Phillies had a chance to dump the best team in baseball on the road. Harper’s two-run home run in the top of the 8th inning tied the game at 3-3. But with one out in the bottom of the 9th and the count full, Neris gave up a walkoff home run to rookie Dodgers catcher Will Smith for a 4-3 defeat.
Sunday, June 9 vs Reds at CBP: After a tough road trip, the Phillies had won four straight to move 10 games over the .500 mark and two games up in the NL East race. Nola took a 3-1 lead into the top of the 7th inning at home, then again ran out of gas after retiring the first two batters. After he surrendered a two-out single and walk, manager Gabe Kapler brought in Alvarez. The lefty reliever promptly yielded a two-run single to tie it up, and then an RBI single to the very next batter to give Cincy a 4-3 lead. The Reds bullpen then retired nine of the final 10 Phillies batters.
Friday, June 14 at Atlanta: A truly back-breaking defeat. The Braves had slipped past the Phillies in the NL East standings by 1.5 games as the two division rivals opened a big weekend series in Atlanta. The Phils bolted out to a 5-1 lead behind Nick Pivetta, who then took a 7-2 lead into the bottom of the 7th inning. Brian McCann reached him for a leadoff home run. Then with two outs, Pivetta allowed a double and a walk. Kapler went to Vince Velasquez out of the bullpen, and the former starter immediately allowed an RBI single to Freddie Freeman to cut the Phils lead down to 7-4. The Phillies pushed their lead out to 8-4 in the top of the 8th, but then Alvarez allowed a two-out, two-strike RBI single. Ramos came on and yielded a two-strike RBI triple to the next batter to make it an 8-6 ball game. In the bottom of the 9th, Neris put two on but also got two outs. Then he gave up a two-strike RBI double to Austin Riley to make it 8-7, followed by a two-strike, two-run walkoff double to McCann to blow it.
Friday, June 21 vs Miami at CBP: The Phillies were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season, having lost four straight and six of seven. When the last-place Marlins came to town, it was a chance for the Phillies to get things re-stabilized. It was not to be, as the Fish would win all three games of the weekend set by two runs or fewer. In this Friday series opener, the Phillies offense left 11 men on base and went just 2-12 with runners in scoring position. With the game knotted at 1-1 into the 6th, Miami scored an unearned run off Nola to take a 2-1 lead. The Phillies left the tying run at third base in the home 8th, and dropped a lifeless decision.
Saturday, June 22 vs Miami at CBP: The very next night, the Phillies took a 3-1 lead into the top of the 7th against Miami. Morgan came on in relief and allowed the first three men to reach base, giving up a run to make it a 3-2 game. Then with two on and two out, Ramos came on and allowed a two-run double on the first pitch he threw, putting the Marlins up 4-3. They pushed another across on J.D. Hammer in the top of the 8th, and beat the Phillies by 5-3.
Saturday, June 29 at Miami: A week after that second-straight disheartening defeat at home to the Fish, the Phillies suffered one at Marlins Park. After building a 6-1 lead behind Zach Eflin, Miami got a two-run homer from Walker to make it a 6-3 game in the bottom of the 6th inning. In the next inning, Nicasio allowed a run and gave way to Morgan with one out and runners at first and third. Morgan then got ripped by the Marlins, allowing two singles around a pair of doubles over the next four batters. The result was five more runs for the hosts, who took a 9-6 lead. The Phillies bats went silent over the final four frames, and it was another loss to the last place team in the division.

TRIO OF SECOND HALF COLLAPSES (SO FAR)

Saturday, July 13 vs Washington at CBP: Their awful 10-17 stretch had dropped the Phillies into third place, 8.5 behind Atlanta and now 1.5 back of the Nationals. With a chance to gain ground head-to-head, Nola had the Phillies on top with a shutout, leading 3-0 into the top of the 6th inning. But then he walked two and allowed a two-out RBI single to Robles to make it a 3-1 game. In the top of the 8th, Morgan would blow it again, though his defense also let him down. He walked two and retired two batters. With two outs, an error by Maikel Franco at third base allowed a run to score, cutting the Phillies lead down to 3-2. Then it was Neris’ turn in the top of the 9th inning. The closer retired the first two batters, but then allowed a base hit to Anthony Rendon. That was followed by a game-turning, first-pitch, two-run homer off the bat of Soto that put the Nationals up 4-3. The Phillies got Roman Quinn to second base with two outs in the bottom of the frame, but a series of moves by Kapler had left his best pinch-hit option for Neris as backup catcher Andrew Knapp. The result was as expected, a 4-3 Phillies loss.
Wednesday, July 17 vs the Dodgers at CBP: After winning a spirited walkoff victory the prior night against baseball’s best team, the Phillies and Dodgers were tied at 2-2 into the 7th inning. But Nicasio allowed a two-run homer to David Freese in the top of the 7th, Austin Davis gave up a two-run homer to Justin Turner in the top of the 8th, and the Dodgers coasted home with five runs over the final three innings for a 7-2 victory. The Phillies offense produced just two hits off a half-dozen Dodgers pitchers, who retired nine Phils batters in a row in the late innings as their own hitters opened up the lead.
Friday, August 2 vs the Chisox: Last night. I refuse to relive this 15-inning debacle completely. But the Phillies offense failed to score over the final eight frames, Velasquez was forced to play left field, and Quinn was forced to pitch two innings. If you are that much of a masochist that you need the full details, enjoy my game story at that link.
The Phillies have lost 52 games this season, so their performances in these 17 do not tell the full story. However, they do tell much of the frustrating 2019 story for Phillies fans who feel that they have suffered through far too many late defeats that looked like the could have, usually should have, been put into the win column.
Again, the Phillies did not need to win all of these games. They didn’t even need to win half of them. An 8-9 record in games they definitely could have won with a few timely hits and/or a better effort from the bullpen would have them in first place right now. Somehow, they have to find a way to make this stop over the next eight weeks.

Phillies get reliever Mike Morin from Twins for cash considerations

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Phillies swapped cash to Twins for reliever Mike Morin

The Philadelphia Phillies announced a trade this morning in which the club acquired right-handed relief pitcher Mike Morin from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for cash considerations. Morin had been DFA’d by Minnesota three days ago.

Morin is a 28-year-old Minnesota native who was the Los Angeles Angels 13th round selection in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of North Carolina.
He broke into the big-leagues just two years later with a strong 2014 rookie performance for the Halos in which he went 4-4 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.186 WHIP. Morin pitched in 60 games that year, allowing 51 hits over 59 innings with a 54/19 K:BB.
While he wasn’t awful over the next few years, Morin was never able to repeat that same level of performance, and he was released in the summer of 2017. The Kansas City Royals picked him up, but Morin was ineffective over a half-dozen September appearances with the Royals.
Waived by Kansas City, Morin was selected by the Seattle Mariners in December of 2017. He would make just three big-league appearances for Seattle in the 2018 season, though he pitched well over 41 appearances (including three starts) with the Mariners Triple-A affiliates at Tacoma in the Pacific Coast League.
Morin was granted free agency this past off-season and the Twins signed him to a $750k deal for the 2019 season. Prior to being designated for assignment earlier this week, Morin was enjoying a solid but unspectacular season as a deep arm in the first-place Minnesota bullpen.
Morin appeared in 23 games for the Twins this year, producing 3.18 ERA, 4.50 FIP and 0.971 WHIP marks. He allowed 20 hits, including three home runs, over 22.2 innings with an 11/2 K:BB ratio.
The righty normally brings his fastball in the 90-92 MPH range. However, he is not a strikeout pitcher by any measure. Morin primarily utilizes a sinker and an effective changeup to keep hitters off balance and induce ground balls, a repertoire that could actually play well at Citizens Bank Park.
Morin was a close friend of recently deceased Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, attending the wedding of his former teammate just last December. According to Betsy Helfand of TwinCities.com, Morin’s fiancee’ Amy Nece shared a suite with Skaggs’ wife, Carli, during the combined no-hitter last week in which Angels players draped their #45 jerseys across the mound as a tribute to the pitcher, who had died suddenly in his hotel room while on a recent road trip.
You just do life together,” Morin said per Helfand. “…Naturally, we all become close. We all become a family. And when you lose one of your family members, it’s pretty devastating.
Morin will become part of the bullpen mix with the Phillies as soon as he arrives. His pure numbers are better than a handful of relievers who have been pitching key innings of late, including Juan NicasioJ.D. Hammer and Cole Irvin. Fans should expect manager Gabe Kapler to use him liberally, especially if Morin pitches as he did with Minnesota.
In accompanying moves, the Phillies slid injured reliever Seranthony Dominguez over to the 60-day Injured List and optioned Hammer back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Dominguez is not expected to return to the club until mid-August at the earliest.

Getting to be gut-check time early for the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies

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Phillies in desperate need of a gut-check win at SunTrust Park 

To call the Philadelphia Phillies (38-31) loss on Friday night to the Atlanta Braves (41-29) simply frustrating would be an understatement. The host Braves rallied from a five-run deficit entering the bottom of the 7th and a two-run deficit entering the bottom of the 9th to a walkoff, 9-8 victory over the Phillies.

The victory was an eighth straight for the surging Braves. It was also their 11th win in their last 13 games, and raised their record to 23-9 since the club fell two games below the .500 mark back on May 9.
On that day, the Braves were four games behind the first-place Phillies in the standings. But now, after turning their season around and after sending the visiting Phillies to their own fourth loss in five games, the Braves have pushed to the top of the NL East Division and hold a 2.5 game lead.

The Phillies now hold just a two game lead on both the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamonbacks, and a 2.5 game lead on the Saint Louis Cardinals, for the final National League Wildcard playoff spot.
Perhaps more important than worrying about the postseason, however, is winning right now. The Phillies are reeling, and all of the Pollyanna positive-thought talk from manager Gabe Kapler or anyone else in the organization isn’t going to change that fact.
This 2019 Phillies ball club has reached gut-check point. The club has gone just 5-9 over the last two weeks since a rousing 11-4 win over Saint Louis at Citizens Bank Park on May 29 pushed them to 11 games over the .500 mark and a 3.5 game division lead.
Can the Phillies regain whatever mojo allowed them to repeatedly overcome their inconsistencies to produce victories over the season’s first two months? Or are the multi-talented defending NL East champion Braves simply too much for them? Are the Braves just a better team? Could this Saturday night game at SunTrust Park in Atlanta possibly be a must-win game already, as we reach the exact mid-point in June?

SATURDAY STARTING LINEUPS

(TO BE UPDATED WHEN ANNOUNCED)

PHILLIES
  1. Jean Segura SS
  2. Bryce Harper RF
  3. J.T. Realmuto C
  4. Rhys Hoskins 1B
  5. Jay Bruce LF
  6. Scott Kingery CF
  7. Sean Rodriguez 3B
  8. Cesar Hernandez 2B
  9. Aaron Nola P
BRAVES
  1. Ronald Acuna Jr.CF
  2. Dansby Swanson SS
  3. Freddie Freeman 1B
  4. Josh Donaldson 3B
  5. Nick Markakis RF
  6. Austin Riley LF
  7. Ozzie Albies 2B
  8. Tyler Flowers C
  9. Sean Newcomb P

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

PHILLIES – Aaron Nola: 6-1, 4.58 ERA, 1.487 WHIP, 80 hits over 76.2 IP across 14 starts with an 86/34 K:BB. Nola finished third in last year’s NL Cy Young Award voting but has produced a roller-coaster of results here in 2019. He is coming off a solid 6.2-inning outing against Cincinnati six days ago at home in a 4-3 Phillies loss. He beat the Braves on Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park, going 6 innings and allowing just one run on two hits with eight strikeouts.
BRAVES – Sean Newcomb: 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. Newcomb is a 26-year-old left-hander who was the first round pick at 15th overall of the Los Angeles Angels in the 2014 MLB Draft. He came to the Braves in a five-player deal back in November 2015 in which Andrelton Simmons went to LA. He began the season in the Atlanta rotation, but was removed after three starts and sent to Triple-A. He returned quickly and made 17 appearances out of the bullpen. This will mark his return to the rotation, and reports are that he is likely to be limited to 75-80 pitches.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PREGAME NOTES

  • The Braves eight-game winning streak marks the first time they have enjoyed one this long since May of 2013. It is also the longest winning streak by any National League team in the 2019 season to this point. As a contrast, the longest winning streak that the Phillies have enjoyed is one four-gamer.
  • Atlanta has now defeated the Phillies in six straight games at home.
  • The Braves 23-9 hot stretch can be directly traced to May 10, the day that manager Brian Snitker moved dynamic young outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year, into the leadoff spot in his batting order. Acuna has slashed .298/.361/.511 with eight homers, 14 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs, and 22 runs scored out of the leadoff spot since that time.
  • The last three days have marked the first time that Atlanta has been atop the NL East standings this year. Prior to that, the Phillies had spent all but seven days of the 2019 regular season in first place. A year ago on their way to a division crown, the Braves spent 108 days alone in first place.
  • Three home runs last night gave Atlanta 103 on the season. That is three more than the club hit in the entire 2015 season. The franchise record is 235, set back in 2003, and they are currently on pace to blow past that mark.
  • The Braves won the 2018 NL East crown largely by defeating their divisional rivals, going 49-27 within the division. This season, Atlanta has played just 19 games within the division, the least against divisional rivals of any team in baseball. They are now 11-8 against the east in the 2019 season following Friday night’s victory.

INJURY REPORT

PHILLIES: Finally beginning to get some good news on the health front. Edubray Ramos returned to the bullpen this week. Reliever Pat Neshek and center fielder Roman Quinn could return this weekend. Adam Morgan is expected to begin a rehab assignment next week. David Robertson and Tommy Hunter could be back within a month. Adam Haseley suffered a groin strain and can come off the IL on Monday, but may return to the minor leagues at that point with Quinn due to return. Reliever Seranthony Dominguez will rehab and may be able to avoid TJ surgery, but remains out for the foreseeable future. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen had successful knee surgery this week and will return for 2020 spring training.
BRAVES: Center fielder Ender Inciarte remains out with a lumbar strain and has no timetable for a return at this point. Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman was placed on the IL earlier this week suffering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Righty reliever Darren O’Day has a right forearm strain and is on the 60-day IL as of June 7.

TICKET IQ PROGRAMMING INFORMATION


Phillies search for a closer is over as Hector Neris seizes the role

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Hector Neris has seized the Phillies bullpen closer role

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler began the 2019 season without a named closer at the back-end of his pitching staff. There were a number of options who appeared to be reasonably attractive. The skipper chose to simply use whichever option appeared best at an important moment over the late innings based on specific match-ups.

What began as a group of a half-dozen arms who Kapler hoped would fill those end-game roles has gradually shrunk to dangerously low levels.
David Robertson started slowly, producing a 5.40 ERA and 2.100 WHIP over seven games. The veteran free agent signee allowed eight hits over his first 6.2 innings with a 6/6 K:BB ratio before going down with a flexor strain in mid-April. It had been assumed by many that he would ultimately see the bulk of any “closer” opportunities.
Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano have also wound up on the Injured List. Youngsters Seranthony Dominguez and Edgar Garcia, the former who many believe has the pure stuff to one day serve as a closer, have been inconsistent at best. Pat Neshek has mostly succeeded despite not having dominant stuff and getting hit hard at times.
But one arm has emerged to save the day. That would be the big right arm of 29-year-old Hector Neris.
Neris had been the Phillies closer entering the 2018 season. But he began the year blowing a series of games, and by the end of June his ERA had skyrocketed to the 6.90 mark. Mercifully, he was demoted to Triple-A in order to rediscover his mojo.
Over 19 games with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Neris regained his confidence. He dominated minor league hitters, allowing just nine hits over 18.2 innings, striking out 31 batters while walking just seven in that time.
In mid-August, the righty was called back to Philadelphia. He immediately carried over that minor league success to the big-leagues, becoming the National League’s Reliever of the Month even though he didn’t appear in a single game with the Phillies until the 15th of the month.
From his August 15 return until the end of the season, Neris allowed just 11 hits over 17.2 innings with a dominating 35/5 K:BB ratio. He recorded a 2.04 ERA and .172 batting average against over that time while registering one Save and four Holds.
Neris has continued that dominance into the 2019 season. He has allowed just a dozen hits over 20.1 innings with a 27/6 K:BB ratio and has seized that closer role, earning seven Saves. Most importantly, Neris has suffered just one loss. Otherwise, he has blown no opportunities to close out a ball game over 20 appearances, 11 of those as chances to finish things off.
After Neris closed out a win this past Saturday night over the Colorado Rockies, Kapler was quoted by Matt Breen at Philly.com:

“When we see the splitter biting from the dugout – and when I say ‘biting,’ it doesn’t tumble and roll, but it takes a sharp downward action and guys are fouling the ball straight into the dirt or they’re swinging and missing – we know we have it…When we see that from the dugout, we know we have a dominant force.”

Last night at Wrigley Field, Neris came on for the bottom of the 9th inning after the Phillies had tied things up in the top of the frame. He shut the host Chicago Cubs down, striking out Victor Caratini to end the frame and send the game into extra innings.
The Phillies would take the lead on a J.T. Realmuto homer in the top of the 10th, Adam Morgan and Juan Nicasio would combine to shut the Cubs down in the bottom of the inning to end it, and Neris would be credited with the win.
Put it all together and Neris has allowed only 23 hits, just two home runs, over 38 innings across 40 games since his recall last August. It’s not just plain-old success, he has dominated opposing hitters with a 62/11 K:BB ratio. Neris has shown himself to be born again hard. He is as automatic as any closer in the game today. It’s time that we begin to expect it.

Some big decisions coming for hot-starting Phillies

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Roman Quinn (R) is nearly set to re-join the Phillies party

The Philadephia Phillies (6-2) are off to a hot start. Entering the second full week of the 2019 regular season they hold a half-game lead in the National League East Division with the rival Washington Nationals (4-4) coming in for a three-game visit to Citizens Bank Park.

One of the signatures of the team to this point has been the early season starting lineup consistency. Over the first half-dozen games, manager Gabe Kapler has made just one change. This past Saturday he gave catcher J.T. Realmuto a day off, starting Andrew Knapp in his place and sliding the bottom of the batting order around slightly.
The formula has worked. The Phillies are not only winning, but even after Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins they still rank fourth in all of Major League Baseball in runs scored per game.
Three situations are beginning to emerge as we move towards the middle of April. Kapler in crafting his lineup and general manager Matt Klentak in helping make broader roster moves are going to have some interesting decisions to make in the coming days involving the bench, second base, and the bullpen.

THE BENCH

To this point the Phillies have used four players off their bench. Knapp (3), Nick Williams (7), Aaron Altherr (5) and Scott Kingery (4) have all appeared in various roles as pinch-hitters or defensive replacements. Knapp is the only one of the group to get a start.
Those four players have not produced on a regular basis. Collectively they have three hits over 20 at-bats for a .150 average with one walk. The group has produced two RBI and scored one run.
The dynamic but chronically injury-prone Roman Quinn is nearly set to return from his latest physical ailment. Quinn can play all three outfield positions well, has a solid bat and has game-changing speed. When he is ready, likely within the next week, the Phillies will surely activate him. He has no minor league options remaining and would absolutely be claimed by another team, so he will be with the big club.
The choices for the Phillies when the time comes to activate Quinn would appear to be two: send Williams, who has one minor league option left, down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and let him play everyday, or release Aaron Altherr, who has no options left.
It’s a tough decision, but I believe that sending Williams out would be the best choice for all concerned. There is no need for the Phillies to simply surrender the athletic Altherr, a player who also can play all three outfield positions well.
Williams may be more talented, but he also has that option. Playing every day with the IronPigs will keep him fully ready should the Phillies suffer an injury to a starting outfielder. It also allows the club to showcase him better for a possible trade later in the summer.

SECOND BASE

It has to be said, and is something you already know if you have been following me over the last year, that I am firmly in the camp that believes Kingery should be the Phillies starter at second base over Cesar Hernandez.
Kingery was rushed to the big-leagues a year ago and then asked to play most of the season as the starter at shortstop, one of the most difficult positions on the field and one which he had never played as a professional at any level. This after he had been one of the top players in Minor League Baseball the previous season, winning a Gold Glove at second base.
Hernandez is off to a .179/.250/.286 starting slash line. He has clearly been the one weak link in the Phillies otherwise powerful lineup. He will turn 29-years-old next month. While that is far from old, it does make him less likely than the 25-year-old Kingery to remain as the Phillies second baseman over the next three-to-five years as they build a championship contender.
The sooner Kingery is given a chance to play every day at his natural position, the better will be the organization’s return on the $24 million investment they made on him with last year’s bargain contract. 26 home runs, 29 steals, 103 runs scored and a .304/.359/.504 slash line – that is what he produced in the minors during the 2017 campaign. That is also the type of upside possessed by Kingery, an upside that Hernandez cannot approach even now in his prime.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Phillies should turn second base over to Kingery full-time and watch what he can bring to the team over the course of a full season. I firmly believe that they will be rewarded – if they have the courage to make the switch.

THE BULLPEN

The Phillies bullpen mix has provided a mixed bag of results here in the early going. There have been a trio of clear bright spots in right-handers Pat Neshek and Juan Nicasio and lefty Adam Morgan. Those three have combined to allow just seven hits over 11.2 innings with 10 strikeouts. They have walked no one and allowed no runs to this point.
However, three arms who were expected to play important roles have failed the team for the most part. Right-handers David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez and left-hander Jose Alvarez have combined to yield a dozen hits over 7.1 innings with an 8/8 K:BB ratio. They have allowed 10 earned runs and each pitcher has been taken deep.
Another reliever, Hector Neris, has perhaps been the most dominant of the relievers and may be positioning himself for a return to the closer role. In his first outing, Neris retired the first two batters against the Atlanta Braves on March 28. But then he gave up a double to Dansby Swanson and a two-run homer to Matt Joyce.
Following that inauspicious beginning, Neris put it in his rear view mirror and buckled down. He has appeared in four of the last six games and allowed nothing. Over 3.2 innings, Neris has accumulated five strikeouts while walking no one and allowing no hits or runs. In Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Minnesota it was Neris who shut the door, his 1-2-3 performance in the 9th inning resulting in his first Save of the season.
At this point it should not be his last. That March 28 two-out blip aside, Neris has dominated big-league hitters ever since returning from a month in the minor leagues last summer. He should be the official closer. That is nothing against Robertson, who I believe will right the ship and return to being one of the top late-innings arms in the game.
Dominguez is another story. He simply hasn’t been the same this year, stuff or attitude-wise. He seems like a candidate for the classic return to Triple-A to regain his confidence. That, or he may need to be used earlier in less stressful situations for awhile.
His more veteran status and the fact that he is a left-hander who has experienced big-league success is going to get Alvarez a longer leash, but it shouldn’t be permanent. Give him another couple of weeks and more situational opportunities against tough lefty bats in the middle and late innings and see where he is by the end of April.
On Monday night, Vince Velasquez gets his first start of the season at home against the Washington Nationals. While he certainly won’t get pulled from the rotation after just one outing, that rotation spot is squarely on the line in his early-season outings. If he wants to remain a starter he is going to have to produce consistent performances.
On April 2 against the Nationals, Velasquez came out of the bullpen, striking out the final two batters of the game to close out an 8-2 Phillies victory. It is a role for which many still believe he is best suited. If he disagrees, now is the time to put up or shut up.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Three interesting Phillies lineup and roster situations are looming