By Sam Bush
Phils closer Hector Neris checked with his chums on the Yankees about new manager Joe Girardi.
“He understands he needs the bullpen healthy for the whole season and not just one game,” Neris told The Athletic. “I saw how he used guys and the team he had before, how much stronger they were in September and October and in playoffs. When you see that, you see how he understands how to use guys there.”
Girardi has plans for Nerios and the rest of the pen.
“Sometimes (relievers) can handle three days in a row physically, but they lose their focus eventually, and that’s what I don’t want, right? I’ve seen in my career where relievers will be used a lot in the first half — a lot, a lot — and all of a sudden, people want to know why they’re not effective in the second half,” Girardi said. “I’ll put my arm around (Neris), and he’s going to say, ‘I’m OK, I feel good today,’ and I’m going to say, ‘I’m so glad you feel good today, Héctor. Go get your work in and you’re back in there the next day.’ Because again, the prize is in the month of October.
“And I know you have to get there, and I know that the most important game for us is the first game of the year,” Girardi continued. “But I can’t wear Héctor out just because maybe we have some other guys who we’re a little bit uncertain about. It’s going to take more than one reliever to win the division. It’s going to take probably eight to 15 during the course of the season that really need to help out, so we’ll share the work. I’m pretty firm about my rules, and I’ll stick to them.”
Neris has been one of the most consistent major-league relievers over the past four seasons: his 274 appearances are tied for fourth, while his 133 ERA+ ranks 17th and his 1.162 WHIP is 16th (minimum of 240 games). The numbers include his awful three-month stretch to start 2018, which prompted a demotion to Triple A. Neris finished with an ERA+ of at least 143 in the other three seasons.
The 30-year-old right-hander is the type of reliever a team can build around, and that’s how Girardi views him. Neris’ ability to strike out hitters is part of the foundation that makes him an ideal reliever. Only six relievers have posted a better strikeout-per-nine-innings rate than Neris’ 11.75 since 2016.
“He’s obviously got a great split, but he’s also a leader in that bullpen, and I think that is really important,” Girardi said. “The attitude that he brings every day and the love of the game, guys love to be around him.”
In the immediate future, Neris’ attention will turn to his arbitration hearing, which is scheduled for this week. The Phillies filed at $4.25 million. Neris submitted at $5.2 million. He understands the arbitration process is part of the business and said “it’s nothing personal.” Regardless of the arbiter’s decision and how Neris is viewed compared to other relievers around the league, he said he’s focused on the big picture.
“Just try to attack and do what I have to do. I don’t have to prove (anything) to anybody,” Neris said. “I’m just trying to do my job the best that I can.”
Following the offseason departures of César Hernández and Maikel Franco, Neris is the longest-tenured Phillie and one of only a few Latino players on the 40-man roster. He takes his role as a leader seriously. Neris, armed with his nasty splitter, is poised to be a great weapon for Girardi.
“(Leadership) is something that’s natural,” Neris said. “When you give examples to the guys who are around, if you work hard, everybody is watching you, everybody is following you. I don’t do anything extra. Just be me.”