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Neris: A Cog For Cubs Pen

Héctor Neris' impact on the Cubs bullpen is already on full display in the first month of the 2024 MLB season - Image Credit: MLB

FLUSHING, NY — Approach Héctor Neris of the Chicago Cubs and their closer out of the bullpen sits quietly by his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field. Monday night in the ninth inning he came out of the pen and worked around two walks for his fourth save that preserved an opening series 3-1 win over the Mets.

Though, Tuesday evening it was different as Neris wasn’t needed because the Cubs could not overcome a tie-breaking sixth inning JD Stewart three-run homer that gave the Mets a 4-2 win. But Neris was ready for the call to pitch on consecutive nights.

The 34-year-old right-hander, (Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic) has been on winning teams with the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. He is used to the high pressure situations and the mentality is always ready, a closer out of the pen who finished the month of April holding batters scoreless in six of his last seven outings.

Héctor Neris won the 2022 World Series with the Houston Astros, and was one-of-three Astro pitchers to combine for a no-hitter against the New York Yankees on June 25th, 2022 – Image Credit: Latino Sports

He is that cog in a Cubs bullpen with four consecutive save opportunities. And three holds. Opponents have batted .260 off him in 10.0 innings, and striking out 10. As they say, a good closer is hard to find and Neris has that reputation.

“Keep attacking the zone, keeping healthy,” he said through a translator about his success in the month of April. “What you strive for each offseason to have that goal in mind. It’s being healthy and coming out what you have to do.”

And closing games has become a routine, though once was regulated to a setup role with the Phillies in 2016, then 4-4 , two saves, and 28 holds which tied for 4th in the National League with an ERA of 2.58. And striking out 102 batters was the second most by a Phillies reliever. It was 2017, the adjustments and role as the Phillies closer, 26 saves that were 8th in the league.

He attributes the fastball and off-speed pitches that were instrumental to his success, though there were some setbacks. Neris, also would go back to work to assure his location and command were fit for a closer role that saw results in April.

Héctor Neris signed with the Cubs this offseason – Image Credit: MLB

The game has changed since then. Neris is aware out of the pen or for those in the starting rotation about the change in temp with implementation of a pitch clock. A record number of pitchers are on the injured list with shoulder and elbow issues, many opting to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Is he concerned with a fastball clocked at 95, a variety of off-speed pitches that have been attributed to the influx of pitchers on the injured list?

“I’m very strict with my routine,” he said. “Best to avoid injuries… just try to strengthen my body myself. Everything else stay healthy and keep myself in good shape. I really don’t have an answer why everything is happening (injuries) the way it is. Thankful I’m able to stay healthy and ready to come out with the opportunity to pitch and be ready.”

The MLBPA’s main reasoning for the increase of pitching injuries is focused on the pitch clock, which was implemented at the start of the 2023 MLB calendar year – Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Regardless, the influx of injuries has been a concern for managers, coaching staffs, and player personnel, Major League Baseball officials have their theories as do medical experts that know the structure and strain to elbows and shoulders.

Neris has relied on a fastball that has put him in that category of a premiere reliever out of the pen, the Cubs and manager Craig Counsell are always confident when he gets the ball to close the deal. With Neris comes a reliable Cubs starting rotation that provides innings, a team that closed April with 18 wins.

“He’s a great person always here to help and contribute for the other guys,” right-hander Javier Assad said. He allowed two runs or fewer again in six starts for the Cubs, the pen took over as Neris got a night off.

“Practice makes perfect,” Neris said about the good start. “Offseason focus on weapons I have and focus on that to go out there and execute them. Ready all the time. I’m really happy to be a part of a special team. Counsell put a winning mind on us. Great staff, front office, young players with experience. Everybody compliments each other well.”

With this past Monday’s win, the Cubs broke the franchise record for most wins through the month of April with 18 total – Image Credit: MLB

And with Neris, as he says, the Cubs are in that role. Keep in mind, though this was April with the ups and downs of a long baseball season. But the Cubs are getting results from their starting rotation and Neris closing the door.

A proud member of the Latino baseball community, he said “I’m very proud to represent my country, to represent my family, be able to represent in the community that is important to me on a personal level.”

And more important for the Cubs who have their cog in the bullpen.

Rich Mancuso is a senior writer and contributor to Latinosports.com

Twitter: @Ring 786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso

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