Hector Neris came out of nowhere last season to become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. It started with a decision by the Phillies' brass to have him focus primarily on throwing his splitter, which had always been his best pitch. Neris went from throwing the split 21 percent of the time in 2015 to throwing it nearly 50 percent of the time in 2016 while curtailing use of his slider. The move paid off as his strikeout rate rocketed to 11.4 K/9, more than two points higher than his 2015 rate. He did see his walk rate creep up but avoided blow-ups thanks in part to an 82.5 percent strand rate. Neris managed just two saves last season despite having the best stuff in the Phillies' pen. However, Jeanmar Gomez lost the closer role late last season, which opens the door for Neris to earn the job this spring. He likely won't cost as much as established closers, but he has the skill set to be one of the most dominant options in baseball as long as he keeps having success with his splitter.
Neris allowed one run on three hits while striking out one over one inning to earn his second save Friday against the Braves. Neris had a two-run cushion the work with, and served up a gopher ball to lead off the inning, but was still able to nail down the victory for the Phillies. Although he hasn't been named as the team's closer, he's now notched saves in back-to-back contests, and for now he's a player who must be rostered based on the possibility he earns the full-time ninth-inning role.
Manager Pete Mackanin said that Neris will pitch the ninth inning Friday if there is a save situation, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reports. The skipper is not naming Neris the closer, but after Neris nailed down the win with a clean frame Thursday -- his eight straight scoreless appearance -- Mackanin will ride the hot hand for one more day at least. It seems Neris and veteran Joaquin Benoit could share closing duties for the time being, until one player puts his stamp on the job.
Manager Pete Mackanin did not name an official closer after Neris converted the save opportunity Thursday against the Mets, Ryan Lawrence of the Philly Voice reports. "It just occurred to me: It's nice to have two guys who can close. It was a good opportunity for me to use Neris. He came through very well," said Mackanin. Struggles from veterans Jeanmar Gomez and Joaquin Benoit opened the door for Neris to get the save opportunity Thursday, but Mackinin does not seem pressed to firmly name one closer just yet. Mackanin's comments suggest that Neris and Benoit could split closing duties for the time being. Neris was particularly impressive in his outing against the Mets, working a perfect ninth inning on 17 pitches.
Neris required just 14 pitches pitches to retire the side in order in the eighth inning of Saturday's win over Washington. While Neris is currently locked into a setup role, he's quickly establishing himself as an elite reliever. The 27-year-old righty has allowed just two hits and issued a single walk through 6.1 scoreless innings this season. His seven punchouts are serviceable, and Neris also collected his third hold of the campaign. Pitching in high-leverage situations should provide the setup man with the odd opportunity to grab a win or save, and he's likely the next man up to become the closer. He should be on your radar, and it's not out of the question to roster him in deeper leagues.
Neris will remain in a setup role after manager Pete Mackanin opted to install Joaquin Benoit as his new closer Monday, Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia reports. Mackanin said Neris is valuable in his current role and that his chance to close will come at some point in his career. Benoit is a free agent after this year and a candidate to be traded midseason, so there is a chance Neris' time could come later this year.
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