The Phillies announced that they’ve optioned right-hander Hector Neris to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and selected the contract of lefty Austin Davis from Double-A Reading. Neris has spent the better part of the past two seasons serving as Philadelphia’s closer.
While Neris was dominant in a setup role in 2016 and pitched similarly well in his first season as the Phillies’ closer in 2017, the 2018 campaign has been disastrous for the 29-year-old. His season-long struggles culminated yesterday in a meltdown that saw Neris yield four runs on four hits, including two homers, in just two-third of an inning.
That latest hiccup sent Neris’ ERA soaring to an even 6.00, though his struggles have been ongoing for a considerably longer period of time; Neris has been scored upon in five of his past eight appearances and in nine of his 30 games pitched on the season overall.
The demotion will provide Neris with a lower-pressure setting in which to work to correct his struggles, and service time won’t be a consideration with regard to determining the length of his stay in Lehigh Valley. Neris entered the year with two years, 104 days of Major League service, so he’s already cleared three years of service time and remains on track to be arbitration-eligible following the current season. He’ll still be controllable through the 2021 campaign, regardless of whether his optional assignment lasts for three weeks or three months.
It’s not clear who the Phillies will utilize as their closer in the interim. Seranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano would each figure to be among the leading candidates, as they’ve all been dominant so far in 2018. If the Phillies prefer to save those tantalizing arms for higher-leverage spots while turning to a more veteran option to enter with the bases empty in the ninth inning, though, Tommy Hunter is on hand to potentially fill that role.