Phillies

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.

Analyzing the roads ahead for Phillies and Braves

Analyzing the roads ahead for Phillies and Braves

Exactly a month from today, the Phillies and Braves will meet for the first time since May 23.

The Phillies have 27 games between now and then; the Braves have 29.

The Phils missed a golden chance to pick up ground in the NL East race this weekend by losing the final two games of the Mets series while the Braves were swept at home in a four-game series against the Rockies.

As a result, the Phillies are a half-game back in the division with the regular season 75 percent complete. The wild-card picture is crowded, with the Phillies currently tied with the Rockies and Brewers.

What's been going on with the Braves?

Prior to being swept by the Rockies, the Braves had gone nearly three weeks without losing two in a row. They've been carried lately by rookie Ronald Acuña Jr., who on Sunday did not reach base to begin the game. It was notable because he had reached base to lead off nine games in a row, the longest streak in 18 years.

The Braves have some challenging series ahead but will be a threat down to the final days of the season because of their dynamic top-of-the-order and the consistently solid, clutch production from Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. Whether or not you believe in "clutch," the icy, contained, contact-heavy approach Freeman and Markakis have in pressure situations sets them up for more success than most with runners in scoring position.

In the rotation, lefty Sean Newcomb has allowed five-plus runs in four of his last eight starts. Kevin Gausman has been a valuable addition so far, allowing two runs in six innings, one in eight and three in five since the trade from Baltimore.

The Braves' bullpen has been shaky. With closer Arodys Vizcaino on the DL, second-year lefty A.J. Minter has been closing games. He had an ugly meltdown Saturday night with two outs, nobody on and the Braves ahead 3-0. He's blown two of his last six games.

The upcoming schedules

The Braves have just one off day between Aug. 20 and Sept. 13. 

They begin a seven-game road trip tonight — three in Pittsburgh, four in Miami. 

The Pirates have faded from contention but are a pesky team that makes a lot of contact and has a very good bullpen combination with Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela. These should be low-scoring games.

The Braves are 7-1 against the Marlins since the All-Star break. Miami can't be relied on for much spoiling at this juncture.

Following that for the Braves is a nine-game homestand against the Rays (2), Cubs (1), Pirates (3) and Red Sox (3).

Hopefully, the Red Sox still care about wins and losses two weeks from now. Their lead is so big. 

After that comes a real test for the Braves, a late-season, seven-game West Coast road trip to Arizona and San Francisco. The Diamondbacks are in the thick of the race and the Giants are on the periphery but still far from a doormat. 

The Phillies, meanwhile, have just one series left all season outside the Eastern Time Zone.

After that West Coast trip, the Braves have three with the Nationals, three with the Cardinals, then come the Phillies.

Just to review, the Braves' schedule leading up to Phillies series:

• 3 at Pirates
• 4 at Marlins
• 2 vs. Rays
• 1 vs. Cubs
• 3 vs. Pirates
• 3 vs. Red Sox
• 4 at Diamondbacks
• 3 at Giants
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Cardinals

And the Phillies' schedule leading up to that point:

• 3 at Nationals
• 3 at Blue Jays
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Cubs
• 3 at Marlins
• 3 at Mets
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Marlins
• 3 vs. Mets

More on the Phillies

Krukcast: Memories from Little League

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Krukcast: Memories from Little League

On this edition of Krukcast, Gregg Murphy and John Kruk share memories of Little League Baseball. Kruk on what it was like covering the Little League World Series. Also, the guys discuss what they hope today's kids experience playing in Little League.

1:00 - Kruk was a dominant Little Leaguer.
5:00 - What made Little League so enjoyable.
9:00 - Lessons Kruk learned growing up in Little League.
14:00 - Covering the LLWS.

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