Well, you can say this about the Phillies — they ain’t boring.
Just hours before the start of a crucial homestand against the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, the Phils announced they had recalled relief pitcher Hector Neris from AAA and was sending down shortstop J.P. Crawford.
The decision on whom to send down is more interesting than the recall of Neris, but let’s tackle the 9th member of the bullpen first.
At the big league level, the 2018 season has been a disaster for the former closer. In 30.0 innings he has a 6.90 ERA and a 6.39 FIP. He has struck out 30.6% of hitters faced and walked 8.2%, right around his career numbers, but has allowed an opponents’ batting average of .287, with a WHIP of 1.53.
However, in Lehigh Valley he’s been outstanding, with a 1.45 ERA and 1.29 FIP in 18.2 innings since being sent down. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury mentioned a few days ago that the team feels Neris may have been tipping his pitches while with the Phils.
An effective Neris makes the back of the bullpen more robust and could provide insurance for Seranthony Dominguez, who has struggled when pitching with no rest, but that’s assuming Neris’ issues have been worked out.
The demotion of J.P. Crawford to AAA is fascinating and, on the surface, confounding. After spending nearly two months on the disabled list with a broken hand, Crawford was activated from the DL on Friday, but had not seen any big league action since his return.
Scott Kingery, meanwhile, remains on the 25-man roster. His playing time has all but disappeared with the arrival of Asdrubal Cabrera, as Kingery has suffered through a dreadful rookie season. He’s hitting .223/.266/.321 in 395 plate appearances, and fans have been calling for his demotion for weeks.
So why Crawford and not Kingery? There are a few potential reasons.
First, Crawford was not impressive during his rehab stint with High-A Clearwater, with a .143/.265/.238 slash line in 49 plate appearances. Second, Crawford has only played 34 games in the Majors this year, just 11 more than last year, and it’s possible the team wants him to get some regular playing time at AAA.
Kingery is also a better runner, can play outfield as well as infield, and with left-hander Justin Bour and switch hitters Andrew Knapp and Roman Quinn on the bench, gives the team a right-handed option late in games, albeit not an exciting one.
Boston’s offense is the best in baseball, and while Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have had very good seasons, having an extra arm in the bullpen against the Red Sox is likely the main reason for going with an extra arm over a deeper bench.
In just a couple weeks, when rosters expand to 40, these machinations won’t be necessary. But for now, the Phils’ roster shuffle remains an interesting mixing and matching of players and pitchers as the team cobbles together their 25-man pennant chase roster.