The bullpen is often overlooked when a team is successful, yet quickly blamed when a team fails to secure tight wins. So when a talented reliever comes along, it’s wise to take notice and give him his due. Justin Gorman takes a look at Philadelphia Phillies reliever Hector Neris.
The Philadelphia Phillies did not walk into the 2016 regular season with particularly high expectations, but behind some surprisingly impressive performances, they have won eight of their last ten games on their way to a 16-11 record to begin the year. Starting center fielder Odubel Herrera has slashed his way to a .310/.450/.414 start, establishing himself as one of the premier leadoff hitters in 2016. Vincent Velasquez has shown potential “future ace” numbers in a small sample size, striking out 39 in 31 1/3 innings of work, with a 1.44 ERA and a 4-1 record out of the gate. It’s worth noting – neither Velasquez nor Herrera have reached their 25th birthday yet.
Those two are already becoming household names in Philly, and will become more well-known across all of baseball over the coming months. Another player who baseball fans might want to familiarize themselves with is 27-year-old setup man Hector Neris, whose somewhat circuitous route through the minors led him to The Show – where he has become a permanent fixture in the bullpen in 2016.
After a sip of coffee in 2014 (a one inning appearance), Neris began 2015 with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, where he compiled average-to-below-average numbers in 27 games – a 3.62 ERA over 37 1/3 innings, striking out 35 with a 1.661 WHIP. Despite those numbers at AAA, he became an everyday bullpen presence in Philly by the end of 2015, posting a 3.79 ERA in 40 1/3 innings of major-league action, striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings and reining in his WHIP to a respectable 1.190.
Brooks Baseball describes Neris’s repertoire as relying heavily on an extremely effective splitter that averages about 87-mph, and a four-seamer that runs up to the plate at an average of 94-mph. He also mixes in a sinker and a rare slider. He has used his splitter more than 50% of the time this year – a strategy that has paid off – guiding him to a 1.10 ERA and an astonishing 27 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings of work.
The Phillies’ recent win streak resulted in closer Jeanmar Gomez being used a bit more than manager Pete Mackanin would have liked, so he turned to Neris in a save situation on May 1 against Cleveland. Despite giving up a home run to Carlos Santana, Neris struck out a Tyler Naquin to register his first major-league save. In fact, he had not been asked to save games very often in the minors, notching only 16 saves over five years and almost 400 minor league innings.
Either way, his strikeout of the hot-hitting Naquin to end the game showed just how nasty his splitter can be:
Gomez will continue forward as the Phillies everyday closer for the foreseeable future, as he has converted all nine save opportunities he’s had so far this year; but as any baseball fan knows, an unproven closer’s hold on the role is tenuous at best. A few poor performances may lead to Mackanin looking in Neris’ direction more and more, and with his 14.88 K/9, who can blame him?
Hector Neris has cemented himself as the eighth inning guy, and has put himself in a place to earn his manager’s confidence. Right now, the combination of Neris and Gomez to end games is working well, as evidenced by the Phillies’ record. It will be interesting to watch how this very young team continues to progress during the 2016 season.
Justin Gorman has written about manager tirades, baseball contracts, an illegal delivery, and the case for expansion.
Follow Justin on Twitter @j1gorman.