WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pat Neshek drove driveway to driveway in the rain Friday, 150 miles south from Philadelphia to his new life. The Rockies’ latest 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 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 last place 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’s name 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 host Nationals was postponed because of rain. 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 adding Neshek. He is a two-time all-star, including this season. And they got him with little pain, sending three down-list prospects to Philly 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’s addition allows the Rockies to mix and match their setup men. He will likely handle eighth innings in a rotation with lefty Jake McGee, depending on the matchups. Although both pitchers have proved adept at facing opposite-handed hitters.
Even at 36 years old, Neshek continues to evolve. He added a higher-velocity slider to his arsenal this season, one specifically designed for left-handed hitters, a pitch that comes in hotter and harder than the slider he throws to right-handers.
In turn, his strikeout totals 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. He saw the Rockies up close in May, over 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.”