The Phillies have just 11 games left this spring as the Grapefruit League schedule enters the final stretch. For some, the final days in Florida will be for fine-tuning before opening day. For others, it will be their last chance to make sure they are there on April 1.

The center-field competition remains open, there are still spots to secure in the bullpen, and the bench is still not solidified. The Phillies have some decisions to make before they break camp. The next 11 games should have plenty of intrigue.

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— Matt Breen (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Neris working on another pitch

Héctor Neris has built his career on mastering one pitch, but his addition of another offering could provide the relief pitcher with a needed weapon.

Neris is working this spring on a slider, which he has thrown sparingly during his first five Grapefruit League appearances. The goal isn’t for Neris to suddenly rely on throwing sliders, but instead throw it just enough that hitters can’t sit on his trademark splitter.

“I think it can help a lot,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think anytime you can have more weapons to go to, the hitter can’t really sit on one pitch. If you have Hector and he has three pitches, then you have a 33% chance of guessing right instead of 50, right? So that decreases your odds and increases his odds of fooling him.”

For the last five seasons, Neris has almost exclusively thrown two pitches: a fastball and a splitter. The splitter, which Neris started to throw in 2016 at the urging of then-manager Pete Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure, moves like a fastball before it dives when it nears home plate.

He has thrown the splitter on 56.9% of his pitches over the last three seasons, easily the highest rate among all major-league relievers. In those three seasons, Neris has posted a 3.94 ERA with 44 saves and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s used the splitter to become a reliable reliever.

But the trusted pitch seemed to lose some effectiveness last season as batters hit .225 against it after hitting just .170 vs. the splitter in 2019. Neris didn’t allow a homer last season, but he did post a career-high 4.57 ERA in 24 appearances. Perhaps he was becoming a little predictable, which is why a slider could be so beneficial.

”It’s something he’s put a little focus on this camp,” catcher Jeff Mathis said. “It’s something that’s going away from righties and going in a different direction than the fastball and the split. Having it go in a different direction is big for him.”

Neris will likely lose his closer role sometime this season — perhaps as early as opening fay — to either Archie Bradley or José Alvarado. The Phillies gave Bradley $6 million this offseason, and Alvarado continues to impress in spring training with a triple-digit fastball.

But Neris will still be asked to get important outs, providing the Phillies the luxury of inserting a former closer into the seventh or eighth innings. And those outs will be easier to get if his new pitch can make his old pitch even better.

The rundown

Scott Kingery is trying to win the Phillies’ center-field job amid strikeouts and swing changes, writes Scott Lauber.

Baseball is losing fans. Bryce Harper has ideas to fix that. One of which is to send MLB players to the Olympics.

Andrew Knapp gives the Phillies quality insurance as a backup catcher, Bob Brookover writes.

Important dates

Tonight: The Phillies head to Tampa to play the Yankees, 6:35 p.m.

Saturday: The Blue Jays come to Clearwater, 1:05 p.m.

Sunday: Phillies stay in Clearwater to play the Tigers, 1:05 p.m.

Monday: Phillies head back to Tampa for another night game, 6:35 p.m.

Stat of the day

Maikel Franco signed a one-year contract earlier this week with the Orioles, and the former Phillies third baseman will reunite with Freddy Galvis in Baltimore. The two were teammates in Philadelphia for three seasons, and Galvis signed with the Orioles earlier in the offseason.

Franco debuted at the end of the 2014 season, and Galvis was traded after the 2016 season. Since 2015, Franco ranks second in games played for the Phillies with 639 and Galvis ranks fourth with 470. The leader is current Cleveland second baseman Cesar Hernandez with 729. Among active Phillies, Odubel Herrera ranks first with 626 games played since 2015.

“I’ve followed Freddy for a long time. I know he’s a really, really good shortstop,” Franco told Orioles reporters this week. “I’m just trying to continue to work with him, get better with him, and it’s going to be great.”

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: If Zach Eflin is not ready for the start of the season, who will take his place? — Margie B. via email

Answer: Thanks, Margie. It’s still too early to know how serious Eflin’s back injury is, but Girardi did say the Phillies are “a little” concerned. He’s battled back issues the last two seasons, so the Phillies could be cautious here.

If he’s not ready for the season, his rotation spot would likely go to Vince Velasquez, as Spencer Howard is also sidelined with a back problem. But keep an eye on Ivan Nova, who starts Friday night and is on a minor-league deal.