Pete Mackanin won't officially name Hector Neris the closer, but if the Phillies have a lead in the ninth inning Friday against the Braves he plans to turn to Neris for the save for the second straight night.
Neris pitched a 1-2-3 inning Thursday at Citi Field for his first save of the season. Joaquin Benoit, who Mackanin dubbed the closer "for now" after removing Jeanmar Gomez from the role less than two weeks ago, will pitch in a setup role. Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning Thursday, retiring Jay Bruce, Neil Walker and Jose Reyes.
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Benoit has extensive experience as a setup man and has a 2.42 ERA since 2010. When Mackanin gave Benoit the first crack at closing after Gomez faltered, part of the reasoning was that Neris was just so valuable as a setup man capable of getting more than three outs. A lot of times, the eighth inning provides as many or more high-leverage situations as the ninth.
But Neris pitched well and locked down the win Thursday, so he'll get the next opportunity. Mackanin said Thursday that he likes having the luxury of interchanging Neris and Benoit or using Benoit in the ninth when Neris is unavailable.
"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said after Thursday's win. "Over in Washington (when Benoit allowed a walk-off three-run homer to Bryce Harper), I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with."
Neris has emerged the last two seasons as an elite reliever. In 87 appearances, he has a 2.33 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 111 strikeouts and 31 walks in 88 2/3 innings. He hasn't allowed a run in 69 of those 87 appearances.
Kendrick injury update
Howie Kendrick, on the 10-day DL retroactive to April 16, likely will not return when he's first eligible April 26 and it looks like he'll be out a bit longer than expected. Kendrick said he did not think the injury was to his oblique, but it turns out that's exactly what it is.
Mackanin gave an estimated timetable of about two weeks from when Kendrick first went on the DL but noted the tricky nature of oblique injuries. The constant twisting of swinging a bat can cause setbacks or slow recovery time -- see Asche, Cody last spring. Recovery timetables for oblique injuries tend to last about a month.
Kendrick's absence continues to provide an opportunity for 23-year-old outfielder Aaron Altherr, who is 7 for 21 (.333) this season with two doubles and a homer.