CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Right-hander Hector Neris is coming off a breakout season during which he established himself as one of baseball's best setup men. He allowed just 59 hits in 80 1/3 innings and struck out 11.4 per nine innings.And he did it by throwing his splitter 49.7 percent of
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Right-hander Hector Neris is coming off a breakout season during which he established himself as one of baseball's best setup men. He allowed just 59 hits in 80 1/3 innings and struck out 11.4 per nine innings.
And he did it by throwing his splitter 49.7 percent of the time, according to PITCHf/x, while 46.4 percent of his pitches were fastballs.
This season, the 27-year-old plans to add a slider to his repertoire, which he thinks could make him even more effective.
"Especially at this level, you use everything you can to be better," he said before Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Twins at Spectrum Field. "My goal is to be better and better. I understand I had a good year, but it's different when you have three pitches instead of two pitches.
"Everybody expects to face my splitter as my No. 1 pitch. It's easier if they go to the plate and I only throw two pitches. Then they only have to pick one. Now they have to pick one of three, not one of two."
Neris threw the slider three percent of the time last year, so he has it. It's just a matter of having the confidence to throw it when the game is on the line.
"You've got to butter him up," said catcher Cameron Rupp with a smile. "You've got to tell him, 'Hey, it's a good pitch. If you use this in the right counts and the right situations, you'll be successful with it.' And the more they hear that and the more you tell them you have confidence in the pitch, that goes a long way.
"It's a pitch that will throw a wrinkle in for him. There are scouting reports that say this guy's a majority fastball-split. Now if he has a slider that he throws in there, now he gets the hitter thinking a little bit more. I think it's going to be good for him. He was very successful last year, and I think this will help him be even more successful this year."
Neris said he already believes the pitch is game-ready.
"I'm very confident," he said. "Because I've been working on it in the offseason with my coach in the Dominican. And I practiced in winter ball, and I'm confident to throw it no matter what, in any situation. It's not like the same as my splitter, which I'll throw in any count, but I'll be fine with it."
After tying for third in the National League in appearances last year (79), he isn't worried about any carryover from the heavy workload. The concession he made was to pitch only three times for Este in the Dominican Winter League, down from 15 the previous season.
"My arm feels good. I've been working hard to make sure it feels good," he said.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.