ATLANTA - The Houston Astros ditched Pat Neshek in November, handing him to the Phillies for practically nothing. He was used last season as a middle reliever, pitched in innings that lacked leverage, and faced mostly righthanded hitters. He yearned for a bigger challenge. The Phillies gave it to him, and Neshek ran with it.
Neshek recorded the final two outs of Tuesday night's win in Atlanta to post his first save since May 19, 2015. Manager Pete Mackanin said before Wednesday's game that Neshek would be the closer, as the team wants Hector Neris to work on his recent struggles with the splitter.
Neshek has allowed just two runs this season in 22 innings, and 23 of his 24 outings have been scoreless. Neshek, 36, is certainly in the mix to be an all-star, joining Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Altherr as the likely candidates to be the Phillies' lone representative.
"I just feel really comfortable here. I really like it, and my family likes it. I think that points to a lot of the reasons why I'm having success," Neshek said. "I don't know what's going to happen with the All-Star Game. I just try to go out there and throw up a scoreless inning and see where it leads me."
The Phillies acquired five veterans this offseason with the hopes that they would be able to flip them for prospects at the July 31 trade deadline. Michael Saunders has underperformed. Clay Buchholz is out for the season. Joaquin Benoit is on the disabled list. Howie Kendrick has played well since returning from injury, and Neshek has been consistent all season. Those two are the most likely ones the Phillies will be able to move. Neshek, who has pitched in four postseasons, could be again playing for a contender.
"You always want to play competitive baseball in August and September," Neshek said. "I'm sure if I get traded, it will be to a team that's contending. But would it mean a lot to me? Not really. That doesn't really matter to me. I've been on numerous playoff teams. It would be nice to win a World Series. Anywhere you go, you're going to be trying to get there."
Neshek, who was an all-star in 2014 with St. Louis, has found success as a reliever despite not having the velocity to blow away hitters. He throws a 91-mph sinker, an 83-mph slider, and a 70-mph change-up. Neshek makes up for his lack of velocity with deception from a sweeping side-arm delivery. He struck out the Braves' Adonis Garcia on Tuesday with an 84-mph slider, but the pitch looked much faster, thanks to Neshek's unique delivery and release point.
"With that funky delivery, you would think he throws a sinker down," Mackanin said. "But his ball rises. The ball kind of comes up to hitters, which they're not used to seeing."
Neshek said last month that he pitches best in a hold situation. But he said Wednesday that he's comfortable with whatever role in which the Phillies use him. He closed games for two weeks in 2014 when St. Louis' regular closer was injured. One of his next roles might be on the all-star team.
"I just look at it like the same situation," Neshek said. "You're going to get those situations in the seventh and eighth. Obviously, it's magnified if you blow it. 'The closer blew the game.' They're threatening to score so you just try to put it out. That's how I look it at. . . . Roles don't matter to me at all."
Quinn to seek second opinion
Roman Quinn will visit Dr. James Andrews later this week for a second opinion on his left elbow after an MRI on Tuesday revealed an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament.
Quinn, a 24-year-old outfielder, injured the elbow on May 28 when he was sliding into third base. He has been out of triple-A Lehigh Valley's lineup since. The injury is certainly a concern, but that is softened by the fact that it is not Quinn's throwing arm. Quinn was pushing for a promotion before being injured and could still return this season. He is batting .274 with a .344 on-base percentage and 10 steals in 45 games.
Zach Eflin also had an MRI on Tuesday in Philadelphia. The triple-A righthander received good news, as his right elbow had just mild inflammation and there are no concerns about the ligament, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said. Eflin is expected to resume throwing next week. His elbow flared up last Friday in his first start after the Phillies demoted him to triple A.