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Optimistic Neris expects better Phillies 'pen

@ToddZolecki
February 15, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Héctor Neris is the perpetually happy Phillies closer who hopes to be even happier by next weekend. He should be in a better mood this season, regardless.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Héctor Neris is the perpetually happy Phillies closer who hopes to be even happier by next weekend.

He should be in a better mood this season, regardless.

“Every new year, every spring, I’m excited,” Neris said on Saturday morning at Spectrum Field. “This is what I do. This is my job. This is my passion. This is my life.”

But this year is going to be different. First, the Phillies and Neris are headed to a salary arbitration hearing on Friday in Arizona. The Phillies filed at $4.25 million. Neris countered at $5.2 million. He said he is trying not to think about the hearing, which comes two days after J.T. Realmuto’s showdown with the Phillies.

Neris plans to attend his hearing. He has heard stories about them. He knows that teams sit across from their players and make cases about why they do not deserve the salary they believe they deserve. It can be rough.

“I can only control what I can control,” Neris said. “When I’m there, I’ll think about it. Right now, I’m just trying to prepare my body and my mind. My job is working hard and getting ready for the season. I understand sometimes this has to happen. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.”

Neris, 30, went 3-6 with a 2.93 ERA and 28 saves in 68 appearances last season. He struck out 89 and walked 24 in 67 2/3 innings. Neris tied for 26th out of 158 qualified relievers in strikeout rate (32.4 percent).

The righty dominated for stretches. He struggled at times.

He also made waves in September when he twice took extra time to warm up in the bullpen before entering the game. So much extra time that umpires had to start walking to the bullpen to summon him. The Braves got so upset the second time it happened that they said the league needed to investigate. Former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler called it part of Neris’ ritual and routine and nothing more. It wasn’t that.

Neris was making a statement about too many calls to the bullpen that seemed to come at the last minute.

Neris was not going to rush and perhaps injure himself.

“Sometimes you have to be ready fast because of the situation, because the manager needs you, but when you’ve got a plan for that and you anticipate that, you help your guys more,” Neris said. “Everything last year, when you see what happened to the group, you want to take care of yourself, so you stay healthy. You don’t want to be injured. You want to be healthy to help your team at the end of the season.

"This year I think the bullpen will be different. I think the bullpen will try to be healthy the whole year. [New Phillies manager Joe Girardi] wants to make it to October and the playoffs. One of the pieces -- a key -- is the bullpen. If the bullpen isn’t healthy, you can’t make the playoffs or go to the World Series. I can say the manager and [new pitching coach Bryan Price], one of their priorities is trying to keep everybody healthy for September and October to go to the playoffs.”

Phillies pitchers have offered rave reviews so far of Girardi and Price. They are just two reasons why Neris is optimistic about the season.

“I’m putting everything on the table,” he said. “Everything is available for me. I’m just waiting for God to give it to me.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .