ATLANTA – Yacksel Rios was on a field in Clearwater, Fla., Friday afternoon with other Phillies minor-leaguers. A few hours later, he was on a major-league mound in Atlanta to make his season debut. Everything moved quickly, the pitcher said.
"It was a crazy day," Rios said.
Rios was told around 2 p.m. that he was replacing the injured Pat Neshek. He hustled to pack his bags and left Florida on a 4:55 p.m. flight, less than three hours before the first pitch of Friday's 5-4 win over the Braves. Rios arrived in the Phillies clubhouse 30 minutes before the game began and joined his teammates on the field during the National Anthem. He was there just in time.
Manager Gabe Kapler said after the win that if a player is on the roster, he's there for a reason. And Rios' reason came in the seventh inning when he entered with one out and a one-run lead to protect. He struck out the first batter he faced — Lane Adams — on three pitches, finishing the batter with a wipe-out slider. The inning was over two batters later. Rios needed just eight pitches, seven of which were strikes, for two outs. It was tremendous, Kapler said.
"I was ready," Rios said about pitching on short notice. "I know anything can happen and I'm a bullpen guy. I thought that it would be hard and tough to pitch, but I always have that mindset that I'm ready to go."
The Phillies remain unsure how long they will be without Neshek. Kapler said before Saturday's game that there was no update on the pitcher's status. Neshek said Friday that he was afraid his shoulder injury could be "something serious."
Neshek's absence creates an opportunity for Rios, one of the last pitchers the Phillies trimmed from spring training. He was slated to begin the season at triple A but now could carve a role in the majors. He has a 94-mph fastball and a nasty slider that could fit into a major-league bullpen.
The 24-year-old reached the majors last August and pitched in 13 games. He was mostly inconsistent but his strikeout numbers – 17 in 16 1/3 innings – were impressive. Friday night, on a few hours' notice, he provided some hope.
"It feels amazing," Rios said. "My confidence is good and better than last year. Now, I feel more comfortable on the mound and am able to trust myself more."