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Houston Astros Hector Neris Jersey

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HOUSTON – The desire to compete for a championship and his comfort level with the front office lured veteran relief pitcher Héctor Neris to the Astros, who announced Tuesday they had signed him to a two-year contract. Neris will get a guaranteed $17 million from the Astros, a source told MLB.com

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Neris essentially replaces Kendall Graveman, who the Astros acquired from the Mariners in July and lost in free agency to the White Sox. Graveman got three years, $24 million from the White Sox, but the Astros weren’t comfortable giving a relief pitcher a deal beyond two years, leading them to Neris.

“I think Héctor is a key piece in the bullpen,” general manager James Click said. “I think he really lengthens the bullpen out. His ability to take the ball every day is an asset that we really focused on when talking to him, and we have quite a few guys out there that we feel good about, and he’s one of them, so hopefully among all of them they can help us get back to the World Series.”

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The on-again, off-again closer for the Phillies over the last several seasons, Neris struggled at times in the ninth-inning role in the first half of 2021 but found success once Philadelphia made him a setup man in July. The 32-year-old right-hander had 11 saves — and six blown saves — in the first half, but posted a 2.70 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 36 appearances in the second half.

For the season, Neris had 12 saves, a 3.63 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. He made 74 relief appearances, tied for fifth most in the Majors. Neris struck out 32 percent of the batters he faced in 2021, relying heavily on his splitter, which was his most-used pitch (41 percent usage). Opponents batted just .136 against it, going 16-for-118 with 53 strikeouts and a 46 percent swing-and-miss rate.

“They told me how important I would be for the team, and for me, I take it personal,” Neris said. “I want to be on that side because it’s a team that always has a hunger for winning and being in the championship and I want to be part of that, especially how the guys here impacted me and talked to me on a video call when I was in the Dominican. That motivates me to be part of this clubhouse.”

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The Astros will put Neris at the back of the bullpen with closer Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek and Phil Maton. Houston also hopes to get bigger contributions from veterans Pedro Báez and Rafael Montero in 2022. Báez signed to a two-year deal last offseason but was limited to four games because of health issues, and Montero injured his shoulder shortly after coming to the Astros in a July trade with Seattle.

“We’ve gotten very good reports on both of them,” Click said. “We still continue to feel good about both of them as contributors next year and so if they are healthy and available, and we get everybody back from last year, adding Héctor into the mix, I think we’ve put ourselves in a very good position to have a high-quality bullpen that can help us get back to the playoffs.”