DENVER — Pat Neshek has more important priorities these days, like searching for the right pitch mix in Coors Field's thin air, but he's still paying attention to his old team. Neshek, now a key piece in Colorado's bullpen, spent four months with the Phillies. He enjoyed his time.
The 36-year-old reliever, a veteran of seven teams in 11 seasons, studies the game. He is aware of the challenges the Phillies face in their rebuilding process. But he departed with an optimistic view.
"The young guys are pretty good," Neshek said. "They need to get that experience and that will lead to confidence. It'll be comfortable. You're starting to see it with some of the pitchers. [Aaron] Nola is becoming like a Cy Young candidate, pretty much. You have guys who are trying to figure it out. I feel like each one of them, if something clicks, they could be really, really good big-league guys. The team has money. That'll help."
The Phillies bought Neshek from Houston for $6.5 million in November. He pitched well enough to reach the All-Star Game. The Rockies acquired him last month for three A-ball prospects. Neshek said he liked the laid-back atmosphere within the Phillies, one generated by the young players and their manager, Pete Mackanin.
"It was a good city for my family," Neshek said, "which leads to you being happy and taking that out to the field."
It could be years until the Phillies are considered contenders. Neshek said the current growing pains are part of it.
"You're seeing a lot of the good, young guys like Nick Williams, he's doing some special things," Neshek said. "[Aaron] Altherr is going to be a leader on that team down the road. [Freddy] Galvis is probably the best shortstop I played with. You have the pieces. It's just going to be getting everybody to gel and feel comfortable. I see it. I just don't know how far away it is to winning a lot of games. We lost so many games by one run there. If you turn those into wins… ."
That was Neshek's problem before. Now, he's just an interested observer.
The praise for Mark Leiter Jr.'s impressive outing Saturday extended beyond the Phillies clubhouse. Leiter, who struck out nine Rockies in 4 1/3 innings of relief, caught Colorado manager Bud Black's attention.
"He mixed the fastball, the breaking ball, and the splitter. We couldn't solve him," Black said. "We were talking about it in the dugout. For whatever reason, we couldn't solve this guy.
"He comes from good stock, right? Uncle's a big-leaguer. Father was a big-leaguer. He continued in their tradition."