Girardi names his closer ahead of Phillies opening day


The Phillies spent the winter remaking last year's historically bad bullpen so there was quite a bit of intrigue surrounding Joe Girardi's decision on who would end up with the highest-profile role in that unit.

Girardi announced his decision Wednesday, the day before the team's season opener against the Atlanta Braves.

Meet the new closer, same as the old closer.

"I'll close with Hector," said Girardi, referring to veteran Hector Neris, who has pitched himself in and out of the role at various times the last few seasons.

Girardi said he would use newcomers Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado, both signature acquisitions this winter, as the primary setup men, with Connor Brogdon, Brandon Kintzler and Sam Coonrod preceding them. Kintzler and Coonrod are both newcomers.

Dave Hale and Vince Velasquez will be long men.

Neris, 31, had a good season in 2019, recording 28 saves and a 2.93 ERA. He allowed just 45 hits in 67⅔ innings, struck out 89, walked 24 and had a 1.02 WHIP.

The right-hander began last season as the closer but ultimately pitched himself out of the role before getting another shot late in the season after no one else could plug the role. For the 60-game season, Neris appeared in 24 games, logged 21⅔ innings and had a 4.57 ERA. He gave up 24 hits, 13 walks, struck out 27 and had a 1.71 WHIP. He converted five saves chances but blew three others. Neris did pitch better late in the season when he started throwing his fastball more. That pitch worked as a complement to his best pitch, the splitter.

During spring training, Neris brought back his slider, a pitch that he had toyed with in previous seasons. He intends to make it part of his repertoire.

"It gives him another weapon," Girardi said. "Any time you're a two-pitch pitcher, those pitches have to be really, really elite. He has an elite split and he can pitch up (with the fastball), but the hitter has a 50-50 chance to guess right. So, now, it changes their chances."

Neris had a very good spring, he pitched 9⅔ innings and gave up just five hits. He allowed four runs, two on the final day of camp. Most impressive was 14 strikeouts and no walks.

Bradley, Kintzler and Alvarado, the only lefty in the bullpen, have all closed in their careers so Girardi had choices.

"I like the way all three of them threw the ball," Girardi said. "When you look at Archie, he's kind of a guy you can ask to give you more than three outs on occasion. He's comfortable with that and willing to pitch at any time. Alvarado is someone I can deploy against lefties depending where they are in the lineup. Kintzler has done it all. I know all of these guys can be successful closers. I just decided to go with Hector."

The Phillies suffered 21 losses in games in which they held a lead last season. That was most in the majors. Many of those losses could be hung on the bullpen, which logged a 7.06 ERA, the worst in the majors since Herbert Hoover was President. Opposing lineups hit .315 against the Phillies' bullpen and fattened up with a .946 OPS, both major-league highs.

Some managers may have been reluctant to award the closer job to someone who contributed to that carnage, especially when they had new options. Some managers might simply have decided to start fresh.

Girardi said he did not consider that angle.

"Hector has done it, he's done it in this town, and I like the way he's throwing the baseball," he said.

Case closed.

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