The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
Neris keeping the faith in Franco
PHILADELPHIA >> With a shrunken, injury ravaged bullpen, Hector Neris had to spend much of a weekend series against the lowly Chicago White Sox on a temporarily inactive list.
The Phillies could have used him Friday night as Neris served the second game of what had been a delayed, three-game suspension for hitting the Dodgers’ David Freese with a pitch on July 17. The Phillies lost that series opener Friday to the White Sox by a run in 15 innings.
For his first game back Sunday, Neris never had the chance to get active again as starter Drew Smyly and reliever Mike Morin were roughed up to the tune of a 10-5 Phillies loss to a team that came into this series with four wins in 20 games.
While that may have been depressing enough, Neris had another reason to feel a bit miserable Sunday, as he had to watch his closest friend on the team, Maikel Franco, pack his bags and venture off to the minor leagues for the first time since 2015.
“I’m being honest, I know he’ll come back,” Neris said of Franco, 26, who was dispatched to Triple-A Lehigh Valley because he was about to lose his starting position at third base to Scott Kingery, and according to manager Gabe Kapler, “doesn’t profile well” as a bench player.
Neris doesn’t seem to believe that, adding, “He’ll come better, come stronger. ... Because of the situation this can happen but he can prove who he is.”
Neris feels he did that himself last season. Though four years older than Franco, his career path projected similarly to that of his friend, coming up for a strong half of a 2015 season and becoming a regular the next year.
But his inability to successfully stick as a Phillies closer resulted in his being demoted in 2018 as Kapler sought for Neris to get his head straight. That he did, going 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 19 appearances with the Triple-A Pigs before returning to the Phillies for a strong close to the season.
Neris has been the Phillies closer from the get-go this year.
“I’m proud that last year I was in that situation and I came back and did my job,” he said. “And I’m here now.”
He feels Franco can also benefit from the change of scenery and return a more polished and productive presence at the plate.
“He has to understand that. It’s baseball, it’s a job, it’s a business,” Neris said. “The team right now I think they do the best for him; the team wants him to help the team and help himself. But it’s hard; it’s hard for him and his family.
“I wouldn’t say (Franco is) frustrated. When you’re frustrated it’s because the people think you can do something that you don’t do. You see his numbers; it’s not so bad. Sometimes when you’re working hard for something that doesn’t happen, you can feel a little bit mad with (yourself) because you’re working hard. You want to push yourself more. But he’s not frustrated, he’s like (turn) the page.
“As soon as he passes the page,” Neris added, “Maikey’s good. For sure, he’s day by day, moment by moment. But he’s a big league player, and for sure he’ll be here as soon as he can.
“He’s my brother; my compadre. I’ll do everything I can for him.”
••• Minor league bailout lefty Drew Smyly, 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts with the Phillies, finally hit a bit of a wall Sunday. It came in the form of a grand slam home run by Leury Garcia in a five-run White Sox second inning.
Other than that inning, Smyly’s losing outing of five earned runs on four hits with seven strikeouts over five innings ... wasn’t so bad.
“One, maybe two throws away from a much different outcome,” Smyly said. “I felt really good today. Even second inning, I felt I was making good pitches. A couple of hits that found a hole, a tough at-bat to (James) McCann, a walk ... and then bam. A grand slam just kind of separates the game. It’s tough.”
NOTES >> Smyly’s second inning blowup snapped what had been a 13-inning scoreless streak for him . ... Bryce Harper walked twice, which stretched his on-base streak to 18 . ... New Phil Corey Dickerson made a splash at the top of the lineup, with two hits and three RBIs, including a homer . ... After blowing a series to a White Sox team that had been on a 4-16 roll coming in, the Phillies flew to Arizona and will begin a three-game series with Vince Velasquez on the mound against Merrill Kelly Monday.