Neshek establishing himself as go-to reliever

Neshek establishing himself as go-to reliever

CINCINNATI -- Pat Neshek, who joined the Cardinals in an under-the-radar Minor League deal in February, has emerged as their most dominant reliever through the first eight weeks of the season.

With two more shutout innings on Thursday, Neshek stretched his scoreless appearance streak to 18. It's the longest such string of scoreless outings in Neshek's career, bettering the 15 he had from April 21-May 23, 2007. That came in Neshek's first full big league season, when he was with the Twins.

Now, seven years, four teams and a Tommy John surgery later, Neshek said: "I feel just like I did when I was at my peak. That's how I feel right now."

He has been scored upon in just two of his 23 appearances this season. During this stretch of scoreless games, Neshek has been nearly untouchable. He's walked one, struck out 19 and allowed five hits in 16 2/3 innings. Of the 15 runners he's inherited during that span, four have scored. The success has slowly earned Neshek a more prominent role, too.

A pitcher the Cardinals first thought would be mostly limited to right-on-right opportunities is now considered a late-inning option.

"He's been a very pleasant surprise, and a much different pitcher than even what we saw scouting him before he came in," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was a guy we kind of anticipated would be a Randy Choate-style, get him in for a hitter, maybe two, then we're going to have to bump him out, and that would take a toll on our bullpen. But the way he's thrown, he's been able to show versatility. Those are huge benefits to our club, to where he can come in and be a late-inning pitcher for us."

Neshek credits his early-season success to the resurgence of his fastball and his ability to handcuff left-handed hitters with his changeup. He's also thrilled to be pitching in meaningful spots again, something he didn't do much of in Oakland in 2013.

"It just motivates you to want to come to the field and know you're a useful piece to the bullpen," Neshek said. "Last year, it wasn't fun at all. Man, the situations are great. I love the pressure being on. I can't complain one bit about how they're using me."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.