Phillies

Phillies avoid salary arbitration with pitchers Hector Neris and Jerad Eickhoff

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Phillies avoid salary arbitration with pitchers Hector Neris and Jerad Eickhoff

Updated: 4:52 p.m.

Even as the Phillies pursue mega free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper — they are in talks with Machado and will visit with Harper in Las Vegas on Saturday — they are conducting routine baseball business. At this time of the year, that means settling potential salary arbitration cases for the coming season.

One of those cases was settled Thursday when reliever Hector Neris and the team agreed on a contract worth $1.8 million for 2019. Neris had been eligible for salary arbitration for the first time after making $582,500 last season.

Neris’ signing leaves seven Phillies still eligible for salary arbitration. The Phillies also came to a one-year agreement worth $975,000 with right-hander Jerad Eickhoff.

Friday night marks the deadline for the two sides to exchange potential salary figures for the coming season. If an agreement between the player and the team cannot be struck, an arbitration panel will decide the player’s salary during a hearing in February. The two sides can strike an agreement at any time before the panel’s decision — and often do.

The Phillies’ remaining arbitration-eligible players are pitchers Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan, infielders Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco and outfielder Aaron Altherr.

The website MLBtraderumors.com projects the following salaries for the above players: Nola $6.6 million, Velasquez $2.6 million, Alvarez $1.7 million, Morgan $1.1 million, Altherr $1.6 million, Hernandez $8.9 million and Franco $5.1 million. Neris had been projected to make $2 million.

Neris, 29, has been a mainstay at the back end of the Phillies’ bullpen for three seasons. He pitched well in 2016 and 2017 but stumbled in 2018. He spent time in the minors, but dazzled when he returned. He was named National League reliever of the month in August and struck out 35 of the 69 batters he faced over the final six weeks of the season.

Entering 2019, Neris is expected to be one of the pitchers that manager Gabe Kapler uses late in games, along with Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson and others.

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Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss how Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down at the plate. Is there any connection whatsoever between spring training and regular-season productivity?

This is an important season for Nick Pivetta. Is he ready for it, and what went into naming him the starter in Game 2?

Also, an injury update on Rhys Hoskins.

1:00 — Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down.
3:00 — Any carryover between spring training and real baseball?
6:00 — Why is Nick Pivetta starting Game 2?
13:00 — Phillies want a consistent batting order.
17:00 — Is Odubel Herrera starting to "get it?"
20:00 — Update on Rhys Hoskins.
22:00 — Next Phillie in line for an extension.

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