Happy to be out of Houston and with Phillies, Pat Neshek expects to be traded at some point

Happy to be out of Houston and with Phillies, Pat Neshek expects to be traded at some point

ATLANTA — Pat Neshek is not only a baseball player, he is also a baseball fan.

"I read the box scores," he said.

When Neshek checks out the standings these days, he sees that his old team, the Houston Astros, is the best in baseball, and his current team, the Phillies, is the worst.

Does it make the 36-year-old relief pitcher long to be back in Houston?

"God, no," Neshek said with a look of mild horror crossing his face.

Neshek joined the Phillies in a November cash deal. Essentially, it was a salary dump for the Astros. The Phillies assumed Neshek's $6.5 million salary for 2017 and bought themselves some bullpen stability, not to mention a potential July trade chip that has recently added some shine.

"It was a great trade for both of us," Neshek said. "They got to shed some salary. I got to get out of there and do more."

Neshek had an All-Star season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014 and signed a three-year deal with the improving Astros before the 2015 season. He pitched in 66 games in 2015 and 60 last season but did not enjoy his role.

"I kind of became a bit player there," he said. "In '15, I did a lot of eighth-inning stuff and I think I was second or third in the league in holds, but I had a bad final month where they kind of just gave up on me. In '16, I just became a sixth-inning righty specialist guy and it was awful. I knew I could do a lot more. So when the trade (to the Phillies) happened I was thrilled. This was the best thing that happened to me in a few years.

"I can understand why (the Astros) did it. They have a bullpen that’s pretty well-stocked over there. So I'm real happy to be out — if not I would rather have been a free agent than gone back there, which may sound crazy but it gets to the point where you just want to do more. I would almost rather retire than do a role like I was doing for them. It was miserable."

Neshek is anything but miserable with the Phillies.

He's enjoyed his time with the club immensely and would like to hang around and see where the team's rebuild goes.

But that's probably not going to happen. He is pitching his way out of a Phillies uniform. When Hector Neris wobbled in the ninth inning Tuesday night, manager Pete Mackanin summoned Neshek for a two-out save. Neshek got that save — his first in two years — on five pitches. The performance left him at 22 innings for the season. He'd allowed just 13 hits and two runs while walking just four and striking out 21.

"Relieving is a really tough business," Neshek said. "Confidence and getting on a roll is a big part of it."

Contending teams are always looking for veteran bullpen help at the trade deadline. General manager Matt Klentak knew that when he acquired Neshek. Ditto for Clay Buchholz, Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders and Joaquin Benoit, all veteran offseason pickups who were seen as potential mid-season trade chips.

Buchholz is out for the season with an elbow injury, Kendrick missed more than a month with an abdominal injury, Saunders has struggled offensively and Benoit, currently on the disabled list, has had ups and downs. Of the group of players added over the winter, Neshek has emerged as the best trade chip.

Does he expect to be moved?

"I would say yes," he said. "It would be really cool to stay around here. I like it here. I feel very comfortable here. But if that happens …"

He paused.

"I'm sure it will happen," he said with a laugh.

It's unclear what Neshek will bring back, but his value will only rise if he continues to pitch well. His role with the Phillies is evolving. While Mackanin would like to eventually see Neris lock down the closer's job, Neshek was set to fill the role on Wednesday night — the Phils lost 14-1 to the Braves and did not need a closer — and could get the call in the coming days if a need arises.

"People make a big deal about who the closer is," Neshek said. "You kind of pitch into those roles.

"I'm just out there competing. It's me against that hitter. I'll go over the hitters' weaknesses and try to attack."

For now, that'll be with the Phillies.

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

USA Today Images

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.