MESA, Ariz. -- Nick Neidert's '19 season may not have turned out like he hoped, but at least it ended well in the Arizona Fall League.
The Marlins right-hander made his final AFL start on Thursday, throwing five shutout innings as his Salt River Rafters deadlocked the Mesa Solar Sox in what's believed to be the first scoreless tie in the developmental league's 28 seasons. Neidert finished with a 1.25 ERA, third-best among Fall League starters, and a 19/2 K/BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings.
A second-round pick of the Mariners out of a Georgia high school in 2015, Neidert sailed through his first four years in pro ball. He logged a 2.28 ERA in his first two seasons, then won Class A Advanced California League pitcher of the year honors in 2017 and was the Marlins' Minor League pitcher of the year in 2018.
Neidert opened 2019 in Triple-A with the idea of making his big league debut if he continued to pitch well. Instead, he tore the meniscus in his right knee in his second start and spent three months on the injured list following surgery. He returned in July and finished the season with a 4.67 ERA in 54 innings, only intermittently showing the sharp control that is his trademark.
"I would definitely say not the season I had planned for me," said Neidert, who joined the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade in December 2017 and now ranks as the club's No. 11 prospect. "I thought I might get a crack if I pitched well enough and then to go down with an injury, no one wants that. I think throughout the whole entire thing it brought about a better appreciation to play the game because you're sitting down there in rehab, you're seeing the season go on and you're like, I just want to get out there and play."
Even when he got back on the mound, Neidert said he didn't feel completely healthy until he took a week off between the Minor League and AFL seasons. His knee continued to bother him, making it difficult to push off the mound and maintain his normal routine, but he said he finally felt normal again in Arizona.
The 22-year-old Neidert's best pitch is his plus changeup and he excels at locating his low-90s fastball. Besides making up for lost innings, he said he used the Fall League to work on a slider. He also throws a curveball, and having a more reliable breaking pitch is his biggest need before he's ready for the Majors.
"That's a big thing, just consistency, throwing it for strikes and having a putaway slider," Neidert said. "And then today, probably my main focus was working with mainly fastball, changeup and then throwing the curveball for strikes to give them another pitch to look at and then using my slider when I needed to."
Right-hander Keegan Thompson (Cubs) threw his second straight scoreless start for Mesa, striking out four in as many innings. He made only three starts during the Minor League season after coming down with elbow inflammation in April and having a platelet-rich plasma injection.
Salt River center fielder Royce Lewis (Twins) temporarily took over the AFL batting lead when he beat out an infield single in the first inning, raising his average to .367. He went hitless in his next three at-bats, however, dropping to .354 and seven points behind Scottsdale Scorpions third baseman Alec Bohm (Phillies).
Right-hander Alex Valverde (Rays) struck out the side in order in the sixth inning while working with a 93-94 mph fastball and an 87-88 mph slider. Valverde has a 0.90 ERA, .129 opponent average and 10 strikeouts in as many AFL innings.