Regardless of Cubs' 5-2 win against Giants, Craig Counsell is sticking with Hector Neris as closer

Right-hander Keegan Thompson struck out the side in the ninth inning Tuesday for his first save of the season.

SHARE Regardless of Cubs' 5-2 win against Giants, Craig Counsell is sticking with Hector Neris as closer
Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell looks to the field during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Chicago, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell looks to the field during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Chicago, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

Nam Y. Huh/AP Photos

Cubs manager Craig Counsell is sticking with Héctor Neris as closer.

Counsell held that stance Monday night, after Neris recorded his fourth blown save of the season, and Tuesday afternoon, when again asked about the role.

“Hector has been in that role,” Counsell said before the Cubs’ 5-2 win on Tuesday. “Hector is going to need to continue to be in that role for me to manage the games to put the guys down there in the best position to succeed.

“He’s had a couple rough outings. I don’t think he pitched that poorly last night. So, today we’re going to have to check availability on some guys. That always changes it. But we’re absolutely going to need to see Hector at the end of games.”

On Tuesday, right-handed reliever Tyson Miller retired all four straight batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings. Then, with Neris presumably unavailable, Keegan Thompson struck out the side in order.

Tuesday afternoon marked the second time Counsell had defended Neris’ Monday performance against the Giants in a 7-6 loss. The Cubs had a two-run lead going into the ninth inning. Miguel Amaya’s catcher interference put the first runner on base. Then Neris walked Mike Yastrzemski and gave up a go-ahead three-run home run to Thairo Estrada.

“That’s a fly ball,” Counsell said after the game. “It’s the wrong night to give up fly balls, and that’s three runs. If you’re really asking me to evaluate Hector’s performance, the walk is the only bad at-bat.”

Neris’ walk rate was 16.5% entering Tuesday, on track for a dubious career high.

“I think that that is always a concern,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Monday afternoon. “I do think he’s a veteran guy with a really slow heartbeat. I do think that there are times he’ll pitch around a guy to get a better matchup. But certainly, late in games, especially of the one-run variety, that can be really difficult.”

Cubs fans in “The Friendly Confines” booed after the home run and again voiced their displeasure as Neris walked off the field at the end of the half inning.

“I came with everything that I have, attacked the hitters,” Neris said after the game.

The boos were reminiscent of the fans’ reaction to Adbert Alzolay’s struggles early this season, which lost him the closer role in late April. But now, the Cubs are running low on other regular ninth-inning options.

Alzolay is on the 60-day IL with a strained flexor in his right forearm. After Neris, the Cubs’ most experienced high-leverage reliever is Mark Leiter Jr., who is especially valuable matching up against left-handed hitters in late innings. The Cubs’ other setup men are relatively new to high-leverage roles.

Man of Steele

Cubs starter Justin Steele held the Giants to two runs and four hits through 6 ⅔ innings. It was his fifth straight start of at least five innings and two runs or fewer.

Reflecting the Cubs’ struggles, the Cubs went 2-3 in those games.

Rally time

Shortstop Dansby Swanson gave the Cubs an early lead with a two-run home run in the second inning. They didn’t score again until the eighth inning, when they rallied for three runs.

Michael Busch led off the inning with a double off the right field wall. Then, Cody Bellinger, Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ hit consecutive singles to bring in two runs. Pinch-hitting Christopher Morel added another RBI single with two outs.

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