Phillies 2017 Season Preview: Relief Pitcher Hector Neris

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Aug 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Hector Neris (50) prior to action against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. The St. Louis Cardinals won 4-3 in the eleventh inning. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Hector Neris (50) prior to action against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. The St. Louis Cardinals won 4-3 in the eleventh inning. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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Hector Neris emerged as the Phillies’ most reliable relief pitcher in 2016, and the Dominican righty could turn out to be a key part of the rebuild.

The Phillies bullpen was quite bad in 2016. They finished near the bottom of the league in nearly every statistic from ERA to WAR to WHIP. The team kept promoting and demoting players in the hopes they found a corps that could string together some success, but nothing ever worked.

However, Hector Neris was a bright spot in the otherwise paltry relief staff. The 27-year old finished the year with a 2.58 ERA, 3.30 fielding-independent pitching, and 1.108 WHIP. He led the team in appearances with 79 as manager Pete Mackanin called on him on nearly half of the team’s games in 2016.

Neris was the team’s top reliever in 2016 in terms of Baseball Reference’s WAR. Neris racked up two rWAR by the end of the season and was just one of two relievers in the team’s top 12.

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Despite Neris being the team’s top reliever in 2016, Mackanin named Jeanmar Gomez the closer for the start of the 2017 season. I’ve already made my case about why the decision was too early, but what’s done is done.

If Gomez falters as the team’s closer in 2017 – like he did to end the season last year – the closing job may fall to Neris. If Neris pitches as well as he did last year, he should be an effective closer.

Neris hopes to build on his effectiveness as a pitcher by incorporating his slider more into his arsenal. According to Brooks Baseball, Neris used it just 30 times in 2016 for 2.23% of his total pitches thrown. He instead relied on his fastball and splitter, throwing the latter 52.23% of the time.

“In the big leagues you have to respect the hitter,” Neris told Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. “The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect. When I throw it, I want them to say, ‘What is that?'”

Neris used his slider more during winter ball and will work on it throughout spring training as well as when he pitches in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic.

Neris stated, “I’ve never had the confidence in it that I had in my other pitches, but I’m working hard on it. It will give me a third option for the hitter to think about.”

After seeing how Terry Francona reincarnated the fireman in the form of Indians reliever Andrew Miller in the 2016 playoffs, it was posited that Neris could fill that same role this season. Despite the added value that would give him, Neris put that possibility to rest.

“It’s 162 games,” Neris said to Matt Gelb of Philly.com. “If it was only for a week, that’s OK. But you have to think about 162 games. It’s not simple to throw two innings every time you go to the mound. You have to be ready for September. And what happens if you go to the playoffs? You don’t have the arms.”

Team president Andy MacPhail concurred with Neris, saying:

"“Andrew Miller is a special case, put him aside. But I’m not a proponent philosophically. It’s a long season. I think it took its toll just in the postseason because the postseason’s a month and those guys weren’t throwing at the end of the month the way they were at the beginning. I don’t think that’s an accident. And I sure don’t think you can play 162 games like that. We’re not that prideful that if someone demonstrates it, and really can work with it, then we’ll make adjustments depending on the person.”"

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While Neris may not fill that role in Philadelphia in the regular season, he should still be around to do it when the Phils are able to make a playoff push. He didn’t sign until he was 20 years old due to an issue proving his age during his teenage years. Due to the late signing, Neris was 27 years old in his first full season in the majors in 2016.

Neris isn’t arbitration eligible until after the 2018 season and won’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season. That puts him under team control until his age-32 season and well into his prime. He could very well serve the Phillies as they hope to return to their glory of the late-2000s/early-2010s.

On the other hand, Neris could prove to be valuable to other teams as well. Neris was viewed as a potential trade chip both at the deadline and during the offseason. He is a low-cost yet effective relief option in a league that saw relievers garner big contracts last offseason. Trade rumors are sure to follow Neris this season if the team has a losing record come July.

Next: Phillies Announce First Three Spring Training Starters

Neris is the team’s top reliever and could prove to be a part of their future for quite some time, and 2017 is a great time to prove it.

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