'He's done it': Neris named Phillies' closer

March 31st, 2021

will be the Phillies’ closer if they need one on Opening Day.

Manager Joe Girardi made the announcement on Wednesday morning on a Zoom call with reporters. Right-hander Archie Bradley and left-hander José Alvarado will be Neris’ setup men. The Phillies open the season on Thursday afternoon against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

“I liked the way all three of them threw the ball [this spring],” Girardi said. “When you look at Archie, he’s a guy that you can ask to give multiple innings -- more than three outs -- on occasion. He’s comfortable doing it. He’s willing to do it. Alvarado is the lefty that I can deploy against the lefties where they are in the lineup. Héctor has closed. After a slow start last year, I thought he threw the ball pretty well, and I liked the way he threw the ball this spring.”

Neris went 2-2 with a 4.57 ERA and five saves in 24 appearances last season as the Phillies’ bullpen posted a 7.06 ERA, the highest mark of any 'pen in the Major Leagues in the past 90 years. Girardi said he gave no consideration to the idea of putting somebody new in the role to give the Phils a fresh start.

“He’s done it, he’s done it in this town, and I like the way he’s throwing the baseball,” Girardi said.

Neris had a 2.50 FIP last season and ranked fourth in the Majors for the largest increase in BABIP (batting average on balls in play) from .241 in 2019 to .381 in '20, indicating that he suffered from some bad luck. To improve his chances in '21, Neris spent time this spring working on throwing a slider. He and the Phillies believe it can be effective and will keep hitters more honest. The reliever threw his splitter 48.1 percent of the time last year, while using his four-seam fastball 42.6 percent of the time.

A slider could get hitters off those pitches.

“Every offseason when I’m home, I think about what I can do to get better,” Neris said earlier this spring at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Fla. “I decided to try to throw my slider again. I threw it before; 'Why can’t I try it again?' So I started working on it in the offseason, and I got support from our new pitching coach [Caleb Cotham]. It’s a great idea. It’s going to give hitters something different to think about than just splitter and fastball.”

Neris said it is the same pitch he threw in the past, but he has a better idea of when and where to throw it now.

“I know the effect it can have on the eyes of a hitter,” he said. “Change the eyes, change the feet.”

Right-handers Brandon Kintzler, Connor Brogdon and Sam Coonrod will be used at any time throughout the game, Girardi said. Righties Vince Velasquez and David Hale will be multi-inning relievers.

Quinn or Haseley in center field?
Girardi did not announce who will start in center field against Braves left-hander Max Fried on Opening Day because he said he has not told or about his decision. Quinn figures to be the favorite since he is a switch-hitter. Girardi also did not say how he plans to use the pair this season, but they could platoon.

Girardi also said infielders (oblique) and (hand) are healthy and ready to play.