Analysis

Hector Neris looks to carry his strong 2018 finish over to a new season



Neris warms up in the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park during the Phillies 9.15.18 game vs the Miami Marlins. (Ian D’Andrea/Flickr)

Growing up in Villa Altagracia in the San Cristobal province of the Dominican Republic, Hector Neris was a gifted athlete who enjoyed utilizing both his physical and mental gifts.

While enjoying the physical competition on the baseball diamond and on both volleyball and basketball courts, Neris also enjoyed testing and stretching his mind as an avid chess player.

On April 29, 2010 the Phillies signed Neris as a 20-year-old international free agent. Over the next three years the right-hander would prove that he was durable and had the ability to overpower minor league hitters.

From 2010-14 as he worked his way up progressively through each stop in the system, Neris struck out 363 opposition batters across 353.2 innings over 191 games.

Beginning with a one-game audition in August 2014, Neris has appeared with the big-league Phillies in each of the last five seasons. His performances in 2016-17 appeared to cement him as the club’s long-term closer. Over those two years, Neris allowed just 127 hits across 155 innings over 153 games while compiling a cumulative 188/56 K:BB ratio. He also served in a key role out of the Dominican Republic bullpen during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

But then from the very outset of the 2018 season, Neris saw very different results. It all began in the season opener in Atlanta. After retiring two of the first three batters, and following an intentional walk to Freddie Freeman, Neris surrendered a three-run, walk-off home run to Nick Markakis.

Neris was strong over his next three outings, striking out four and walking none over three shutout innings while recording his first Save of the season. However, in his fifth outing with the Phillies leading the Cincinnati Reds by 3-2 at Citizens Bank Park he surrendered three straight hits to start the top of the 9th to tie the game. The Phillies would win in 12 innings, but Neris had blown a Save opportunity.

Over the next few weeks, Neris would have few clean innings, and appeared to genuinely be losing confidence on the mound. By the end of June he had surrendered 35 hits over 30 innings, including an incredible 11 home runs. He had an unsightly .292 batting average against, and hitters had a huge .981 OPS against him.

Neris still had good stuff, as revealed by his 41/11 K/BB ratio. But he was simply making too many bad pitches. The Phillies had seen enough and sent him back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to try and regain his confidence.

The demotion clearly woke him up. Neris overpowered minor league hitters with a 31/7 K:BB ratio over 19 innings. He had a 1.45 ERA and allowed just nine hits across 18.2 innings. Perhaps most importantly he kept the ball in the park, allowing no home runs.

Phillies brass noticed the results and were receiving strong reports from the IronPigs coaching staff, and Neris was recalled in mid-August for another shot with the big club. It was as if the ugly results of the first-half of his season had been completely forgotten.

From August 15 through the end of the regular season, while the rest of the team was falling apart, Neris fully demonstrated that he was back to his old, dominating self. Over his final 20 games following his return he allowed just 11 hits over 17.2 innings for a .172 batting average against with a phenomenal 35/5 K:BB ratio. Neris also continued his progress from the minors by allowing no home runs.

For his fantastic performance, Neris was named as the National League’s reliever of the month for August even though he only pitched during half of the month. His overall 14.3 K/9 rate was baseball’s second-highest over the 2018 season.

Per Matt Breen at Philly.com, manager Gabe Kapler noticed a difference on his return. “What we saw is a guy who seemed a little bit more confident in his fastball,” Kapler said. “I think we saw a guy who was confident overall. The eye test tells me he used his fastball a little bit more and that he was even more effective with his split.

During the early weeks of this Grapefruit League season down in Florida, Neris has tossed four innings over four games. He has surrendered four hits and a pair of earned runs, striking out five and walking two as he works to get ready for the 2019 season.

The Phillies have an improved bullpen entering the 2019 campaign. Veteran right-handers David Robertson and Juan Nicasio and left-handers James Pazos and Jose Alvarez join a group that also includes returnees Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan and youngsters Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos. There will not be enough room to keep all of them when the club breaks camp and heads north for the March 28 regular season opener.

Can Neris regain the closer role that he lost with his poor first-half in 2018? He certainly still has that kind of stuff. If he pitches the way that he did over the final seven weeks last year he may force the Phillies decision-makers to consider that possibility long and hard.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. czontixhldr

    March 6, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    I have to confess I like Neris a lot. There were reports he was tipping his pitches before he was sent down:

    https://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/phillies/phillies-phodder-schedule-toughens-hoskins-anniversary-hectors-rebound-prospect-watch

    If that was the case, and he is no longer doing it, the back end of the Phillies bullpen could be really, really good. I don’t expect him to do what he did when he came back up at the end of last season, which was this:

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.fcgi?id=nerishe01&t=p&year=2018#220-239-sum:pitching_gamelogs

    because if he does do that – striking out nearly 2 batters per IP, he’ll be in the conversation of one of the best 5 RP in baseball.

    I don’t think he’s that good, but boy would THAT be fun to watch over the course of a whole season.

  2. czontixhldr

    March 7, 2019 at 10:22 am

    I’ve always liked Hector. If he repeats what he did after he got called back up from LV (35/5 in 17.2 IP – and that was with a .379 BAbip) then he’ll be one of the best RP in MLB.

    Do I expect that? No, but he only needs to be as good as he was in ’16/’17 to be really effective.

  3. czontixhldr

    March 7, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Also, there were reports that he was tipping his pitches (by the way he was holding his hands) before he was sent down, and if that was really the issue, then we could have the Hector back we all know and love.

  4. Betasigmadeltashag

    March 7, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    I always thought Hector had the stuff to be an elite closer. But in the beginning of the season when he struggled he fell apart, so I questioned his mental make up as a 9th inning guy. If he was tipping his pitches that would explain some of it. When he came back up last year he did look like he figured something out. I really do think if they stay healthy the combo of Siranthony, Hector, and Robertson at the back end of pen does look pretty scary.
    Would still like to see Keuchel in a 2-3 year $20-28 million deal in the rotation

  5. Ken Bland

    March 7, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    everyone in this world has a twin….

    or so they say.

    potential twin genes of the 2008 World Champion Phillies, and yet to be determined 2019 Phillies. With bonus comparisons to the 1980 World Champion Phillies for your scoping perusal.

    Bullpen action

    2008

    Madson-Lidge led bullpen

    2019

    Seranthony-Neris

    1980

    Reed-McGraw

    carrying it a step further, David Robertson repping 2019, Scott Eyre ’08, a very underappreciated Warren Brusstar in ’80.

    One-two middle order power punch

    overall lineup balance is maybe more important/of an asset, but…

    ’19

    Harper-Hoskins

    ’08

    Utley-Howard

    ’80
    Schmidt-Bullzinski

    Indisputable starting pitcher leader

    ’19

    Nola (last year was not likely a fluke, but dupping it isn’t a given

    ’08

    Hamels (pretty good chance he finishes ’19 in a different uniform, but in candor, he was A LOT better in his end of ’18 than expected, so to a degree, that’s an if you’re wrong at first, keep guessing stab.

    ’80

    Guess

    Winning Managerial Personality

    ’19

    Kapler – strategy aside, the players pretty much seem to have the guys back.

    ’08

    Charlie – the players damned sure seemed to have his back

    ’80 – Dallas, in his own way tilted the scale on this front. The roster seemed to match the later clubs intensities in their dislike of him until they realized he was exactly what they needed.

    Moral of the story? In no way, shape, or form were either of the earlier champs a dominant, sure to win a WS, yet they did. Superstar heavy at the top, with a good many average/role playing types (very typical throughout history, but maybe a little more so with the Phillie winners) that got the job done. Bill Madden (NYDN), in reaction to Harper signing assessed the Phils as Nola and 4 mediocores on the rotation front. Maybe slightly overstated, but not horrifically off, so it’s not like this is a sure fire WS contender. So maybe history has another Philadelphia upset winner in its cards. While not likely, the aforementioned similarities are a start, which is more than has been seen around here for a while now.

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