Phils reliever Neris has bounced back nicely from 2018 demotion
PHILADELPHIA — Hector Neris survived a baseball crisis last summer.
The Phillies demoted the then-struggling reliever to the triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Six weeks later, Neris rejoined the Phillies, and since then he’s been one of the team’s most consistent and effective relievers.
Neris at least temporarily muted concerns about the Phillies’ bullpen when he retired the side in order to earn a save in Philadelphia’s 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. The Phillies (6-2) hosted the Washington Nationals in the first of a three-game series Monday night.
“I love the end of the game, no matter what,” Neris said. “I love being on the mound. I like seeing the faces on my team when they win. I love that. I love helping the team. I love helping the manager. It’s what I love.”
Neris, 29, joined the Phillies full time in July 2015. He emerged as one of the best setup men in the National League in 2016 when he struck out 102 in 801/3 innings.
He became the team’s closer in 2017 and saved 26 games. Neris frustrated most hitters with his best pitch, the splitter. The pitch is thrown with the effort of a fastball, but it drops sharply as it approaches home plate.
But Neris’ command of the splitter deserted him last year.
The Phillies sent him to Lehigh Valley on June 30. One day earlier, the Nationals had belted him for five hits and four runs in one inning.
Whatever Neris did in Lehigh Valley worked. He rejoined the Phillies on Aug. 15.
Since his return, entering Monday, he had appeared in 25 games and faced 85 batters. He had struck out 40 and walked five. He had allowed one home run, and 22 of his 25 appearances had been scoreless.
On Sunday, Neris struck out two. He threw 17 pitches, 14 of them splitters.
“We start our game plan with ‘We can get strikeouts with Hector,’” manager Gabe Kapler said. “So, if the game is very, very close, we have a lot of confidence that (Neris) can come in and get swings and misses. When we look at a lineup from top to bottom, we think that Hector is able to get a strikeout on any batter in the game.”
While the Phillies have started fast this season, their bullpen has not. David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez — two of the bullpen’s most important relievers — began Monday with a 9.82 and 15.49 ERA, respectively.
Sunday was just Neris’ second save since June 18 of last year. If he continues to pitch well, it will help stabilize the bullpen and go a long way toward helping the Phillies return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Unlike with most other teams, the Phillies’ relievers have no defined roles. The closer could change from game to game. Neris’ goal for every outing is the same no matter when he pitches.
“I come in and try to do my job,” he said. “And that’s it, no matter if it’s the ninth or the eighth or the sixth (inning).”