Philadelphia Phillies: Pat Neshek’s return should bolster struggling bullpen

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen has struggled mightily, but the return of Pat Neshek should provide a boost to their relief corps.

The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen has been, for lack of a better term, an absolute dumpster fire.

There is really no other way to describe the way that the Phillies have been closing out games as of late. They are currently 39-33 (having won the final game of the Cardinals series as I write this), five games over .500, but it seems like so many of those wins have come painfully close to being gut-wrenching losses.

In reality, many games that have seemed like sure-fire wins going into the late rounds have indeed ended disastrously thanks to a bullpen that has proven time and time again that it can’t get the job done.

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Night after night, Phillies starting pitchers go out to the mound to do battle and on most of those occasions, they give their club a chance to win a ball game. And night after night it seems, the bullpen either puts those wins in jeopardy or flat out gives them away.

Take the previous three games as prime examples.

The Phillies entered the final game of a second series with the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday before coming back home to face the St. Louis Cardinals. In the Brewers game, the Phillies hit the ball all around the ballpark, building a 10-5 leading going into the 9th inning.

But in came Hector Neris, who laughably proceeded to give up two home runs, making it a 10-9 game. Jake Thompson had to come in, throwing one pitch that almost left the ballpark but found it’s way into Odubel Herrera‘s glove.

The Phillies survived.

The next night, the Cardinals came to town and again, the starting pitching and offense went to work, building a 4-1 lead. In came Victor Arano who, in his defense, essentially struck out the final batter for what would have been the winning out, but the ball hit the dirt and got by Andrew Knapp, allowing a run.

Arano was then replaced by Adam Morgan, who allowed a game-tying single. Oh, and Jake Thompson served up a beach ball to Tommy Pham in the 10th frame and Pham sent it to the Wells Fargo Center parking lot. Aaron Altherr would win it on a truly awful play by Marcell Ozuna, but the blown save soured what was a great starting effort by Nick Pivetta.

And that brings us to Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals. With the Phillies up 4-2, Tommy Hunter came in and not only blew the lead but gave up four runs which turned the lead into a 6-4 deficit. Seranthony Dominguez gave up his first home run of the season to Matt Carpenter, but it’s hard to pile on the kid too much seeing as he’s really the only weapon in the entire bullpen that can be trusted on any given night.

Here’s the bottom line: It matters very little whether the Phillies were supposed to be contenders this year. The fact is, they are. They are right there battling for a wildcard spot and playing some pretty darn good baseball after a couple of rough outings against the Giants and Brewers a few weeks back. But if this bullpen cannot protect a lead, it’s going to be downright hard to win games, no matter how good the starters are.

GM Matt Klentak wants to live in both worlds.

He believes that this team is a contender right now, but he also wants the fans to remember that this is a young team. So essentially, his message is that when his team starts struggling, the fan base shouldn’t get too angry about it because they aren’t supposed to be where they are in the first place.

There’s a real problem with that message, and he can’t expect fans to buy it. Phillies fans are smart, and they know that the bullpen struggles are costing this team crucial games. If Klentak wants the fans to buy into this Phillies team, he needs to get his bullpen some help. This is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue, with a bullpen that desperately needs a shakeup.

The facts don’t lie, the Phillies have nine blown saves this season. The bullpen has a 4.65 ERA in the 9th inning. They have three relievers in the top 10 for blown saves in the National League East. Hector Neris and Adam Morgan both have three, while Luis Garcia has two. Neris’ ERA has ballooned to 6, while Garcia owns a 4.74 and Morgan has a 4.66. It’s not pretty.

Hector Neris has been optioned to AAA ball (via Scott Lauber of that is a move that should not only help the Phillies but will hopefully help Neris regain his confidence. He is not the answer in the ninth inning. But there are more moves needed. The Phillies need more than Seranthony Dominguez, who at this time doesn’t even own the designation of closer. Gabe Kapler appears set to continue using his relievers in the situations that call for them.

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Klentak must either make a trade or move some players around. But if he does decide not to go the trade route, the Phillies may be able to get some help in the form of offseason signing Pat Neshek.

Neshek and Tommy Hunter were the two offseason signings that were supposed to help this bullpen. So far, Hunter hasn’t lived up to his contract. Neshek, who has battled injury since spring training (via Matt Breen of is working his way back. He could be the piece  (via Jim Salisbury of NBCS) that the Phillies are missing in the pen.

One of the problems right now is that Dominguez and Edubray Ramos are really the only relievers who can be trusted, but Kapler will not give his relievers titles, so even though Dominguez projects to be the real closer, and Ramos would appear to be a great 8th inning set up man, the skipper has yet to let the two pitch in those two situations consistently.

Neshek’s return would provide some much-appreciated stability to this situation and hopefully allow Kapler some flexibility when making decisions related to late game situations. Neshek was the lone All-Star on the Phillies in 2017 before being traded to Colorado for a cup of coffee. He had an ERA of 1.12 in 40 innings pitched with the Phillies over that time period.

If Kapler feels he has a couple of strong arms in Neshek and Ramos that can be a bridge to Dominguez in the ninth, this would give the Phillies their de facto closer and would also provide better options in those crucial middle-late innings, where the Phillies have been so poor.

This would also keep Kapler from having to overuse guys like Garcia, Morgan, and Hunter who have proven that they work better in specific situations with a lighter workload. Asking any of those three guys to come into a high-pressure situation at the end of the game is just not playing into their strengths.

Neshek was one of the better set up men in all of baseball at one point last season, and that is why the Phillies brought him back. If he can come in and provide the same type of contribution, it would give the Phillies a reliable arm that can come in and get crucial outs. Right now, they need as many of those as they can get.

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The Phillies need Pat Neshek to return as soon as possible. Is he going to single-handedly save the bullpen? No, probably not, as there are still going to be some concerns as long as guys like Morgan, Garcia, and Hunter struggle. But what Pat Neshek does offer is experience and stability, two things the Philadelphia Phillies desperately need to stop the bleeding from their bullpen.