Maikel Franco is hot. Carlos Santana is hot. Aaron Nola remains hot. It turns out that the key to the Phillies’ success hinges on “more of the players being good, more of the time.”
But behind the scenes of the Phillies’ 26-5 drubbing of the Giants through the first three games of this four-game series, there’s been a development of a different kind: Pat Neshek is still not in the bullpen. And he’s not going to be for a while longer.
Pat Neshek, who has not thrown a pitch this season because of a right shoulder injury, suffered a strained flexor in his right elbow throwing a bullpen. Will not throw for at least a week.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) May 9, 2018
Looks like the Phillies’ bullpen won’t be getting its much-needed veteran arm back any time soon. Or is it, the Phillies’ bullpen won’t be further fortified by the addition of a proven effective pitcher for the late innings? Wait—is the Phillies bullpen good or bad?
We talked about Hector Neris and his role after the Nationals stuck a knife in him this past Sunday. As expected, Gabe Kapler didn’t wait very long to redeploy his closer despite the gut-wrenching nature of his last appearance. And lo and behold, Neris threw a clean two thirds of an inning to finish off the Giants with a pair of K’s. Out of 15 appearances this year, his latest was only one of three in which he did not allow a base runner.
Mark Leiter, Adam Morgan, and Victor Arano are all on the disabled list, with Morgan sporting a 2.45 ERA and 13 SO in 11 IP (but those eight walks are troublesome) and Arano not allowing a base runner in his first seven appearances in 2018 (but having allowed three walks and five hits in his last three). Yacksel Rios lives around 97-98 mph now. Luis Garcia, after some early hiccups, has been used more strategically by Kapler for match-up purposes, throwing 12 pitches or fewer in 13 of his 18 appearances this season (whether or not you align with that strategy is a question only you can answer). Among relievers, Edubray Ramos has the highest WAR on the team (0.6), and a shimmering 1.20 ERA to match through 17 games. Drew Hutchison, as a long reliever, shouldn’t be appearing on a regular basis if things are going at least okay, and he hasn’t been on the mound since May 4. Tommy Hunter shares the blame with Neris for that bad Nationals loss, but who is even talking about that anymore after three straight wins?
Zac Curtis seems to get more opportunities the larger the Phillies’ leads are, and with an 0.71 SO/W through 5.1 IP, that’s probably the safest way to go about things. But with Morgan on the DL, his status as a lefty became all the more important—oops, he was optioned to Lehigh Valley as I was typing this and replaced by Jake Thompson.
And hey, give the Phillies credit—they knew we’d go into a frenzy and start eating each other alive after the Neris meltdown against Washington, and promoted Seranthony Dominguez to the thrill of all. I don’t know how much the screams of the masses go into Phillies front office operations, but the timing sure worked out on this one.
Indeed, the more exciting recent Phillies bullpen developments have been the home runs dropping into it. But Neshek was a reinforcement to which anyone hoping for a stronger back end of the pen was looking forward. He’s got a 37-year-old shoulder and a 37-year-old elbow and they’ve both been throwing a baseball like a chicken wing for over a decade (in the big leagues). That he’d feel a tug or a tinge or a tightness was always a possibility, or even an inevitability, when the Phillies brought Neshek back. The Phillies could use a 2017 Pat Neshek in the pen, with his 1.12 ERA and his 9.00 SO/W and his value that is worth three minor leaguers from the Rockies. But who knows if that’s who he even is anymore.
But on a brighter note, such is Neshek’s presence on a team that he seems to have already made a crucial impact on the 2018 Phillies without throwing a pitch. His long conversation with Gabe Kapler in a hotel bar seems to have been a big moment for Kapler as a manager, and one we may look back on as having changed what could have been a much more rigorous and unpleasant season.
Nevertheless, Neshek will be waiting to continue recovering from his shoulder injury following a week off to rest his elbow strain. The plan in the interim? Step one: Keep playing the Giants. After that? Keep scoring runs. And for now, the pressure can stay on relievers who have something to prove, so they can prove it.