NESHEK EX­CITED TO JOIN PLAY­OFF HUNT

Re­liever happy to be in play­off race with Rock­ies, who ac­quired him from Phillies

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke Nick Groke: ngroke@den­ver­post.com or @nick­groke

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.”

Wil­fredo Lee, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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