Pat Neshek didn’t just turn into a great pitcher in 2014. He has been pretty good before and with a few different baseball teams. The seven year veteran broke onto the scene in 2006 with the Minnesota Twins and dazzled in his rookie season. In 37 innings, he compiled a 0.78 WHIP(walks and hits per inning pitched) and struck out 53 batters to only 6 walks. In 2007, he pitched 74 innings and compiled a 2.94 ERA for the Twins. Then, Pat Neshek’s body started to fall apart. He underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2008 and seemed to lose his place in the game for a few years. From 2008-2012, Neshek’s high inning mark for a season was 24.2 with the Padres in 2011. The injuries weren’t a surprise. His sidearm submarine style delivery screams injury whenever he fires a pitch, but Neshek wasn’t going to change the way he pitched so he battled on. In 2012, he found a spot with the Oakland A’s and pitched well, and showed off the minuscule WHIP(0.81) that was a trademark Neshek stat. That is the one that seems to follow him throughout his career. When right, the man doesn’t allow hitters a base.
You see, in order to truly appreciate what Neshek has done in his career, you have to understand what he went through in his personal life. This guy’s whole life is one big comeback and it starts on the mound and continues in a hospital. In October of 2012, Neshek and his wife Stephanie had a baby boy, Gehrig John, and it happened on the same day the A’s locked down the division title. 23 hours after the boy came into the world, Gehrig suddenly stopped breathing and died. It was determined that Gehrig was administered the wrong antibiotic and that caused his death. Instead of crumbling, the pitcher was urged by wife to go back to work. Neshek went back to his team and pitched, because what else was going to numb the pain of losing your newborn than firing a baseball towards home plate.
This is where human beings can break down and quit or keep fighting. Neshek kept fighting. He was solid in 2013 with the A’s in 45 appearances, and on February 6th of 2014, signed a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. John Mozelaik saw a way to add depth to the right side of his bullpen and balance the row of propane tank arms down there. Neshek had to earn it, like everything in his life.
In March, Neshek and his wife, Stephanie, had a baby boy, Hoyt Wilhelm. Baby Hoyt suffered a small respiratory issue after his birth but was soon healthy and released. These are the kind of things you take to heart when considering the emergence of Neshek on the pitching mound. My son Vincent was born with a few health ailments so I understand how that can affect a man’s job. There’s no way a man can push all the trauma of life and death when he is on the mound. Neshek suffered a horrible loss in 2012 and pushed on. He had a small setback in spring training while he was fighting for a job and has since taken his place as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball this season.
Here is what Neshek has done in 2014. He has pitched a career high 46.1 innings, the most since 2007. Neshek’s WHIP is at an all time low, sitting at 0.62. He doesn’t allow a hit or a walk when he touches the mound. He makes first base seem like it’s 270 feet away instead of 90 for a hitter. Neshek has struck out 49 and walked 6 men. His earned run average(0.78) is trying to catch up with his WHIP. Neshek is 5-0 and has 2 saves. Neshek’s WAR(wins above replacement) is 2.3, which is a rarity for a reliever. Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal‘s WAR is 0.6. Neshek is a walking symbol of redemption and money well spent for the Cardinals.
He was an All Star in July and he figures to be a key piece of the team’s playoff hunt. Tonight, with the Cards grinding out a close 3-2 victory over the defending champion Boston Red Sox, Neshek entered in the top of the 8th inning. It’s a role Neshek has taken a hold of in 2014. The setup role. The Red Sox had the top of the order coming up in a tied game. Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia and David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Neshek had his hands full. These guys are known for stretching out at bats or in Ortiz’s case, cranking a ball off the building outside the stadium. Neshek didn’t just set them down in order. He struck out all three batters swinging and did it on 13 pitches. The minimum 9 required to record a strikeout plus 4 extra for safe travels. After striking out Holt on a 3-2 pitch with a sinker, Neshek got Pedroia and Ortiz on three pitches, each ending in foul tips into catcher A.J. Pierzynski‘s mitt. Neshek was brilliant and tonight’s outing showcased his new found skill set. A sniper out of the bullpen.
Neshek throws the sinker around 95 percent of the time and mixes in a changeup and the occasional fastball. I am sure he could hold up his hand with the sinker grip and the hitter couldn’t touch it. That’s how good he is right now.
It’s easy to like Neshek and fall in love with his underdog story. Life has knocked him down plenty of times but he has gotten up every time. He had a pitcher’s worst nightmare injury and found a way back. He suffered the worst loss a human being could ever suffer and came back. He doesn’t throw a 100 mph fastball but found a way to make one of the best sluggers in baseball in David Ortiz look silly on three pitches. Neshek does things the unconventional way but has truly emerged in 2014.
Thanks for reading and catch instant doses of mine on Twitter, @buffa82.
(With reporting research assistance from Jenifer Langosch’s article on March 17th for www.mlb.com)