NESHEK EXCITED TO JOIN PLAYOFF HUNT
Reliever happy to be in playoff race with Rockies, who acquired him from Phillies
WASHINGTON» Pat Neshek drove driveway to driveway in the rain Friday, 150 miles south from Philadelphia to his new life. The Rockies’ newest reliever is a funky submariner, a right-hander who seems to skim the mound with his knuckles when he pitches.
And changes, weird or otherwise, will not throw Neshek from his focus. On the eve of joining his seventh team in 11 years — after the Rockies traded for him Wednesday night, acquiring him from the Phillies — the journeyman all-star rolls along.
“I knew it was going to happen,” he said. “It’s cool to go from a lastplace team to a team with, I don’t know what the total is, 25 more wins? We’re in the race. It’s going to be fun competing.”
Neshek appeared on Colorado’s game-day roster for the first time Friday, part of an unusual 10-man bullpen, before the Rockies’ first game of a weekend series against the Nationals was postponed because of rain at Nationals Park. It did not stop him from considering the possibilities.
Playing through the final year of a three-year contract on a rebuilding team in Philadelphia, Neshek foresaw the likelihood of his departure. The Phillies have no need to pay the remainder of his $6.5 million owed this season to help them not win games. They entered Friday 21 games behind the Rockies in the National League.
Colorado, on the other hand, leaped at the idea of acquiring Neshek. He is a two-time all-star, including this season. And the Rockies got him with little pain, sending three down-list prospects to the Phillies in return.
“His usage the last couple years is a guy who figures in the back end of a game, when the game is in the balance,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “He’s been very capable of protecting leads. And you feel comfortable about his performance.”
Neshek allows the Rockies to mix and match their setup men. He likely will handle eighth innings in a rotation with lefty Jake McGee, depending on the matchups, although each pitcher has proved adept at facing oppositehanded hitters.
Even at 36 years old, Neshek continues to evolve. He added a higher-velocity slider to his arsenal this year, one specifically designed for left-handed hitters. It’s a pitch that comes in hotter and harder than the slider he throws to right-handers.
As a result, his strikeouts have spiked. Neshek has a 9.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season — 45 strikeouts and just five walks — a number nearly three times higher than the best mark already with the Rockies (McGee, at 3.92).
“To me, it’s not a big deal. It’s more about forcing weak contact,” Neshek said. “I like to throw a lot of strikes and be in the zone. That’s my game. But my slider has been really good lately.”
Neshek knew a trade was imminent, pieced together between talks with his agent and whispers among other players and coaches, who called to tell him a scout had asked about his ability.
The Rockies, though, were quietly familiar with him. Colorado bench coach Mike Redmond was Neshek’s catcher in Minnesota from 2006-09 — “one of my favorite catchers I ever had,” Neshek said — and Black was his manager in San Diego in 2011.
“I never heard Colorado come up,” Neshek said. “I was wondering, though, ‘Hey this would be a good fit.’ ”
The scouting went both ways. Neshek saw the Rockies up close in May, during a four-game series in Philadelphia when Colorado won three and outscored the Phillies 24-7.
“This is a really good offense, one of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting hot at the right time and staying in the race.”
Right-handed reliever Pat Neshek throws a pitch as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies and the National League all-stars during the All-Star Game in Miami on July 11.