DENVER — Pat Neshek left the Phillies with more than good memories.
He departed throwing a far more effective slider to left-handed hitters, thanks to the urging of catchers Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp.
“I'm throwing it a little bit harder than I do to righties, but it's got just downward movement,” said Neshek, whom the Phillies traded to the Rockies on July 26 for three minor league prospects. “Before for me, it was just fastballs and changeups. Now I got something I can run in on them, and a lot of them just look outside and try to slap (the ball) to left. It's been a very effective pitch for me.”
The well-traveled Neshek, whose unconventional sidearm delivery is unique, said he toyed with the harder slider to lefties last year in his second season with the Astros but never really had confidence in it. Early this season, however, that changed because of Rupp and Knapp.
“I didn't really know them, they didn't know me, but they were adamant it was a great pitch, so I just trusted them,” Neshek said. “Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp with the Phillies kind of just kept calling it, and I think it gave me confidence.”
Neshek said when he was with the Cardinals in 2014, catcher Yadier Molina called a lot of changeups, and Neshek “felt like that was my pitch to left-handers.” But thanks to Rupp and Knapp, Neshek said he began attacking lefties with an 82-85 mph slider, up from 81-83 mph last year.
“With the right-handers, he starts it off the plate and throws it off that same fastball plane and keeps it riding out of the zone,” Rupp said. “Whereas with a lefty, you can’t do that or you’re going to hit him. It’s got more depth, and it’s shorter. When you see that, his fastball at 91-92 (mph) plays harder. And then when you throw the movement in with that slider, it’s a pitch you got to be ready to hit.
“He kind of places it instead of letting the ball ride out of the zone and be a chase pitch. It’s not a big chase pitch for him to lefties. He gets a lot of swings. The ball’s in the zone. He gets a lot of weak contact.”
Entering this season, left-handed hitters were batting .237 (117 for 494) against Neshek. They are 13 for 62 (.210) against him this year.
The trade to the Rockies means Neshek has left cozy Citizens Bank Park but will make repeated appearances at mile-high altitude in spacious Coors Field.
“Offensively the ball's flying a lot more in Philly, but more runs are probably going to be scored here,” Neshek said. “It's a bigger ballpark here. So you want to control the running game, limit the base hits and the balls that go in the gaps. But as far as balls flying out, Philly wasn't fun. I mean it was in your head all the time. Same with places like Cincinnati and Atlanta; they're tiny ballparks. For me, I'm losing one tiny ballpark and going to an offensive ballpark. Houston was the same way. Down the left field line was a joke.”
In 43 games with the Phillies, Neshek went 3-2 with a 1.12 ERA with five walks and 45 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings. While that performance piqued the Rockies’ interest, it also eased any concerns Neshek might have had about pitching regularly at Coors Field.
“Philly, when I got traded there, I was like, 'Oh my God,' ” Neshek said. “And to have a good year there, it kind of just tones that down a little bit.”