Jeurys Familia has become top setup man for Mets

Mets' Jeurys Familia delivers against the Texas Rangers

Mets' Jeurys Familia delivers against the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Sunday, July 6, 2014. (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

The formula is simple. Trust the fastball. Throw it often. Let the movement take care of the rest. In the case of Jeurys Familia, that means exploiting the sink on one of baseball's nastiest two-seamers.

This is the path that Familia has taken toward becoming an invaluable weapon in the Mets' bullpen. As the All-Star break approaches, Familia has settled into his role as the setup man for closer Jenrry Mejia, giving the Mets a formidable tag team at the end of games.

Familia, 24, has earned that distinction with a 2.18 ERA in 42 relief appearances. He has only improved as the season has unfolded. He's holding righthanders to a .147 average.

"His confidence started to soar," said manager Terry Collins, who has increasingly trusted Familia in high-leverage situations.

Such a development might have been unthinkable earlier this season, when the Mets stocked their bullpen with veterans on their last legs, partly because they weren't quite sure what they would get from Familia.

Three months later, Familia has been used so often that Collins this week had to give the righthander a day off because he had shown signs of overuse.

Command had been Familia's great nemesis. But he has benefited from mechanical adjustments under the supervision of bullpen coach Rickey Bones and pitching coach Dan Warthen.

"They've always told me that if I can throw strikes, I'd be a good pitcher," Familia said. "So, they always tell me every time I go out there, just try to throw that fastball over the plate. It doesn't have to be a perfect pitch, just over the plate."

Entering this season, Familia knew he would be pitching out of the bullpen, so he used his winter ball stint in the Dominican Republic to learn from those with more experience. He sought the counsel of the Phillies' Antonio Bastardo and the Rays' Joel Peralta.

Familia quizzed them on everything from pitch selection in late-game situations and approaches against certain hitters. He soaked it all in, hoping to establish himself as a big-leaguer. The results have helped the Mets' bullpen go from a glaring weakness to a potential strength.

"I know they trust me," Familia said. "So I've got that confidence right now."

The righthander has essentially done it all with one pitch. On the Mets, only Bartolo Colon (82.0 percent) throws more fastballs than Familia (77.7), who reigns as the hardest thrower on the pitching staff.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Familia's two-seam fastball averages 97.2 mph, making it one of the hardest sinkers among big-league relievers.

"His two-seam fastball is as good as anybody's in baseball," Warthen said. "He has power sink anywhere from 95 to 98, he can throw a four-seamer up in the zone."

As Familia progresses, Warthen expects that he will mix in more sliders. But for now, the Mets have seen no reason to make any sweeping changes. For Familia, pitching to contact with a hard sinker has produced more ground balls, weak contact and quick innings.

"I think he's buying in," Collins said. "When you've got that kind of power arm, everybody wants you to strike people out. They love the strikeout. I think he's understanding the type of pitcher he is . . . He realizes he doesn't have to be perfect, he doesn't throw the balls on the corners to get outs with that sinker he's got."

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