Before he was thrust into action in the 15th inning of a meaningless August game, Hector Neris was relatively unknown compared to many of the Phillies' other young relief pitchers. Nine pitches that night were all the righthander needed to earn his first major league win, and to catch the attention of Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg.
Like most in camp with a rebuilding club, Neris, 25, will enter spring training in three weeks with plenty to prove. But after recording outstanding stats over 26 ⅓ innings in the just-completed Dominican Winter League, he could also be a sleeper candidate to earn a spot in the Phillies' young but promising bullpen.
There are only so many spots to be won - three, most likely - behind Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus. Neris, who started last season in double A Reading but spent much of the year at triple A Lehigh Valley, will have to pitch his way onto the club. Mario Hollands, Luis Garcia, Elvis Araujo, Andy Oliver and non-roster invitee Jeanmar Gomez, a long reliever, are among those on the long list of relief pitchers who will compete.
Neris gets by mostly on just two pitches, his fastball and a change-up, his best pitch. The combination certainly proved effective in winter ball. Pitching for Toros del Este, he didn't surrender a run in 18 innings during the league's regular season. He allowed two in 8 ⅓ postseason innings but recorded a 0.84 WHIP.
Originally signed in April 2010 as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Neris is one of 13 relievers on the Phillies' 40-man roster. To get through their 73-win campaign of 2014, they used 18 bullpen arms.