The Philadelphia Phillies are confident that they have much better insurance options than a year ago, but they’ll begin the 2021 season with the longest tenured member of their bullpen closing games out.
Wednesday morning, Phillies manager Joe Girardi announced that Héctor Neris will open the season as the team’s closer. Offseason pickups José Alvarado and Archie Bradley will serve as set-up men as the Phillies attempt to turn around what was a historically-bad bullpen a season ago.
“I like the way that all three of them threw the ball [in spring training],” Girardi said. “When you look at Archie, Archie’s kind of a guy that you can ask to give you multiple innings in a sense, more than three outs on occasion because of his willingness to pitch at any time. Alvarado’s that lefty that I can deploy against lefties, wherever they are in the lineup. And Héctor has closed…and he’s closed here. For the most part, after a little slow start last year, I thought he threw the ball pretty well. And I like the way he threw the ball this spring.”
The Phillies, Girardi said, do believe that Neris will use his slider more frequently this season, a pitch he worked on during Grapefruit League play. If that pitch proves to be effective, Neris could become one of the better relievers in the sport, given the dominance of his splitter.
A season ago, Neris posted a 4.57 ERA in 24 games, though eight of the 11 earned runs that he surrendered came in just three appearances. Neris’ 2.50 FIP suggests that over the course of a typical 162-game season, his back-of-the-baseball-card numbers would have evened out.
Now 31, Neris is entering a contract year, so he has extra incentive to show out in 2021. For the longest-tenured Phillie, things haven’t always been a smooth ride, but when he’s been on (2016, 2017, 2019), Neris has been a very effective reliever in a variety of roles.
If Neris slips up, though, the Phillies are confident they will be able to pivot in a much better manner than they did a season ago. Bradley and Alvarado both have some closing experience. Brandon Kintzler actually has more than those two combined, with 61 career saves. Connor Brogdon flashed the potential to be a back-end reliever late in the 2020 season.
There’s nowhere to go but up, right?
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