Listen, I’m not going to sit here and pretend Hector Neris isn’t one of the more frustrating pitchers in recent Phillies memory. That’s not what the purpose of this is. We all know that when he enters a game, the people watching will collectively endure his nightly tightrope walk across the outing, combining three ball counts with occupied bases to create a situation hazardous to our cardiac health. It’s not fun and it’s not particularly enjoyable most nights.
So why won’t Neris make it easier on himself by entertaining the notion of throwing another pitch?
At this point in his career, Hector Neris is a two-pitch pitcher: splitter and fastball. We put splitter first because that is his primary pitch, the one he throws 57% of the time he’s on the mound. The fastball feels like a “show me” pitch sometimes, one just to keep hitters honest. The issue, as we saw Saturday night, is that it isn’t good enough to keep hitters honest if it misses the proper spot. When this happens to pitchers, when hitters can sit on one of two offerings during an at bat, it begs the question as to why that pitcher cannot learn to throw another pitch. For Neris, the question can be tweaked to be: why won’t he bring back his third pitch?
Let’s go back in time a bit. When Neris arrived in 2015, he was throwing three different pitches: a fastball, splitter and slider. Gradually, he became a two-pitch guy until he almost completely ditched the slider around 2018.
In that season, he rarely threw one and by 2019, it was gone. Now, the timeline matches up with the regime that had entered the fray at this time. Gabe Kapler was well known for promoting the pitching philosophy of “throw your best pitch more, throw your worst pitch less” and this seems to match up with Neris and his usage of the slider. We can’t know for sure, but with all we have seen and heard during that time, it’s a safe assumption to make. It isn’t the worst philosophy to have, mind you, and with Neris it seems entirely justified. In 2018, the pitch was allowing an .833 BAA and a 2.333 SLG. It simply was a bad pitch and was rightly confined to the dustbin.
There was always the occasional slider that Neris would throw that would surprise a hitter, or at the other end, fool them into swinging at something they should not have been.
This spring, though, there was ample evidence that he was resurrecting the pitch, or at least trying to see what could come of it, as he was throwing the pitch a lot more during spring training than he had in the past. Watching the spring games when Neris pitched, you could see that he was throwing the slider more as a way to try and get comfortable with using the pitch.
Once the season has started, there is evidence of only one slider being thrown this year and guess what - it’s not a bad pitch!
Now, let’s set the situation. It’s the ninth inning of a game that Neris is clearly just trying to not let get away. The pitch prior to this was a get over fastball, followed by this slider, followed by a splitter out of the zone and ending with a splitter that caught the bottom of the zone. Did the use of a slider have an effect? Hard to say, but from the reaction of the batter, we can make the argument that Neris effectively stole a strike simply because his lack of use of the pitch meant it never registered as a possibility for the hitter during that at bat.
Still, it’s a wonder why, when Neris is starting to become predictable, he wouldn’t try and throw a monkeywrench into the plans of the opposing team. It’s not necessary to up his slider usage into the 20-25% range. It’s clearly not good enough of a pitch to be used that much. However, if he were to show it a few times per game, at least he would make the other team account for the fact that they are going to see something other than a fastball or slider. While he working on it in a game, he could be taking some time on the side with Caleb Cotham to continue developing the pitch, whether it be working on the shape of the pitch, tightening its spin, etc. If by accident, he stumbles on a way to make it into a weapon, all the better. It’s just curious that he hasn’t used it at all even though he appeared to be dedicated to making better use of the pitch during spring training. It’s something for him to think about.