MIAMI -- Héctor Neris needed three more strikeouts here Sunday to set a record for the most ever by a Phillies reliever. But there was a catch. He had to do it in 35 pitches or less.
Manager Joe Girardi wanted to see Neris achieve the milestone, but not at the expense of his health. Few relievers in baseball worked more than Neris over the season’s last two months, and with free agency on the horizon this winter, it made sense to be careful.
So when Neris struck out two batters in a 21-pitch fourth inning and tied Ron Reed for the all-time Phillies reliever mark with 519 strikeouts, Girardi allowed him to go back out to start the fifth under the condition that he might not finish it before getting No. 520.
“He had it tied,” Girardi said, “and I told him, I said, ‘Now, you’re on top of the list. Whether someone’s next to you or not, you’re still on top of the list, and I’m not going to let you hurt yourself trying to accomplish this.’”
Neris didn’t test the limit. On the seventh pitch of the inning, his 28th of the game, he struck out Jazz Chisholm Jr. on a dirt-diving splitter. The ball skipped away from catcher Andrew Knapp, who threw to first base and kicked off a celebration in which Neris clapped his glove and pointed to the sky. After being taken out of the game by Girardi, he received hugs from everyone in the dugout.
“My eyes started to cry,” Neris said. “I don’t know how to explain to you the emotion I felt.”
Neris, 32, signed with the Phillies for $17,000 in 2010. He made his major-league debut in 2014 and ascended to the closer role in parts of the last four seasons. He’s one of seven pitchers in franchise history to appear in at least 400 games, a list that includes Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton and 1980 World Series closer Tug McGraw.
After making $5 million this year, Neris will get a chance to test his value on the open market in the offseason. Some teams may pursue him as a closer. The Phillies likely would be open to bringing him back in a setup role for which he’s probably best suited.
Neris is popular in the clubhouse, which was evident in the reception that he received from teammates after surpassing Reed. And he would like to return to the Phillies if it works out for both sides.
“I’m open,” he said. “I don’t have control of that. It’s my only team. My emotion is here. My heart is here. Everybody here, I know. I’ll be open for coming back, but it’s not only me, you know?”
Making his first major-league appearance in 851 days because of an elbow injury and Tommy John surgery, reliever Seranthony Domínguez struck out one batter in a perfect sixth inning. Domínguez’s fastball averaged 95.1 mph and topped out at 96.3 mph, below his pre-injury average of 97.4 mph. The Phillies expect he will be part of the bullpen next season. ... Knapp went 0-for-4 and finished with a .152 batting average, the lowest ever by a Phillies position player with at least 150 plate appearances in a season. ... The Phillies are scheduled to open the 2022 season in Houston on March 31. That’s 179 days away, but who’s counting?