The 2016 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen will undoubtedly see changes, and competition for the roles should be intense.
All during this off-season, I have been looking at several candidates to fill the Phillies’ wide-open bullpen roles in this upcoming season. Today, right-hander Hector Neris is under the spotlight.
In 2010, Neris signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He subsequently maneuvered his way through the minor leagues until he was finally called up to play in the show during the 2014 season.
Neris would earn the win in that first appearance on August 5th, 2014, pitching the 15th inning of a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park. He struck out Jake Marisnick swinging as the first batter that he ever faced in the big leagues, and pitched a 1-2-3 frame.
During this past 2015 season, the righthander contributed to the Phils on a much more substantive level. For a while, Neris found himself riding I-76 back and forth between Philly and Allentown, home of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He was called up to the big leagues four different times before finally settling in to stay in July.
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Neris ended up putting together a very fine season. He had a 3.79 ERA, a phenomenal K/BB ratio of 4.10, and a solid 1.19 WHIP in 40.1 innings across 32 games. Neris’ solid WHIP and K/BB numbers came largely thanks to his ability to limit the free passes (2.2 BB/9). That is a job nicely done by the 26-year-old, and bodes well for his chances to make the team.
Headed into a Spring Training in which almost anyone could be in line for a spot in the bullpen, his performance in 2015 seems to give him a leg up on that competition, and a good shot to make the squad. Maintaining low walk numbers is critical for success in the Major Leagues, and Neris did a fantastic job of that this past year.
By no stretch of the imagination is Neris a lock to make the ball club. There are numerous contenders that will be fighting to steal his spot. Other righties in the battle include closer favorite David Hernandez, Luis Garcia, Jeanmar Gomez, Dalier Hinojosa, Michael Mariot, Gregory Infante, Ernesto Frieri, Andrew Bailey, and Edward Mujica.
With all of that increased experienced competition, regaining a role is something that he will have to work hard to earn. If he actually does claim a spot in the pen, Neris seems unlikely to take on any late inning roles for the team. He only completed eight games for the Fightin’ Phils a year ago.
All told, Neris seems as likely a choice as any to make the Phillies bullpen because of his solid results in 2015 and his demonstrated ability to not walk batters. One season does not guarantee him anything in a battle against several other viable contenders for a spot. Spring Training is on its way, and soon enough we will all get to see how this bullpen battle royale plays out.