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Being away from the closer’s role might actually help Héctor Neris

Neris could be a better late-inning option than an established closer.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Héctor Neris is now an Astro after signing a two-year, $17 million contract, but he won’t have the same role he partially had with the Philadelphia Phillies for the past five years. With Ryan Pressly locked in as the Astros’ closer, Neris will be another good late-inning option in Dusty Baker’s hands. That might actually be good for him.

Neris already has 84 career saves, but there are numbers that suggest he’s better when he’s not in charge of sealing victories. Without going too far, let’s begin with last year. After a pretty dominant two-month period in April and May, Neris fell off the Earth in June, going 0-2 with four blown saves in nine appearances. In 7 2/3 innings, he registered a 15.26 ERA and was removed from the closer’s role, the reason why the Phillies acquired Ian Kennedy from Texas.

Immediately, Neris showed a different version of himself. From July 6 to the final day of the regular season, he had 33 scoreless performances across 40 appearances and recorded a 2.51 ERA over that period, also compiling 11 holds and striking out 59 hitters in 43 episodes on the mound in his final weeks as a member of his former team.

But that’s not it. His career ERA when pitching in the ninth frame is a high 4.05, way above the 2.84 and 2.94 he has in innings seventh and eighth, respectively. In fact, take a look at his opponents’ offensive line in the ninth since 2018:

  • 2018: .265/.348/.559/.907
  • 2019: .195/.279/.344/.622
  • 2020: .333/.415/.361/.776
  • 2021: .233/.344/.466/.810

Nothing encouraging, right? Here’s also their career slash lines in Neris’ 7th, 8th, and 9th…

  • 7th inning: .172/.251/.338/.589, 44.1 IP
  • 8th inning: .222/.304/.363/.667, 125.1 IP
  • 9th inning: .232/.311/.405/.715, 184.2 IP

Currently, the Astros might go with Phil Maton for the seventh, Héctor Neris/Ryne Stanek for the eighth, and Ryan Pressly as the closer, which is a formidable group. Besides those three, Rafael Montero, Cristian Javier, and Blake Taylor complete what seems to be a pretty good bullpen for Baker to manage in 2022.

There’s no doubt about Baker wanting to get the best of Neris. And not using him as a closer might be one of the ways to do it.