PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — There are two main obstacles in front of Stony Brook University product Daniel Zamora in his bid to make the Mets as a lefty reliever.
The first is out of his control: If all of their veterans break camp healthy, the Mets have a set 13-man pitching staff.
The second is sort of out of his control, too: Baseball has a new rule that pitchers must face three batters (unless it’s the end of an inning or the pitcher gets injured). That makes the lefty specialist a species very likely to be facing extinction.
Zamora doesn’t view himself as a lefty specialist — “my whole life and career, I’ve never had an issue with righthanded batters,” he said Friday — but the Mets have used him as if that’s how they view him.
In 2019, Zamora made 17 appearances with the Mets. He threw 8 2⁄3 innings. That’s just not going to cut it under the three-batter rule.
So he is working with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner on being, as Zamora put it, “not just the ‘slider guy.’ ”
“I’m trying to be a pitcher,” he said. “I’m not trying to be the guy that flips sliders over and over.”
So far, it’s working. Zamora, 26, has allowed no runs and only three baserunners with five strikeouts in four innings. And he has caught the eye of new manager Luis Rojas.
“He’s gotten a chance to face a lot of righties already,” Rojas said. “I think he’s done a really good job. He’s been mixing fastball and slider a lot and now he’s throwing a changeup. He’s got good action off of his fastball. That’s something that Jeremy Hefner and [assistant pitching coach] Jeremy Accardo and [bullpen coach] Ricky Bones have worked with him on, just having that three-pitch mix so he can be used well with the new three-batter rule.
“He’s done really good in the spring. The slider’s been effective against righties and he’s picked his spots to use his fastball. The changeup, I like the action on the changeup. Good fade, sink. We’ll see how the spring keeps going for him, but he’s looked really good so far.”
Zamora made 16 appearances with the Mets in 2018. In his 33 MLB appearances, only two batters have faced him more than twice. That’s Bryce Harper (1-for-5) and Juan Soto (2-for-3) — a pair of lefthanded sluggers the Mets will be facing many, many times this season when they play the Phillies (Harper) and Nationals (Soto).
This year, Zamora would have to face the batter behind Harper and Soto, too, if he’s called in and the inning doesn’t end. And that could be righthanded batters such as Rhys Hoskins (Phillies) or Howie Kendrick (Nationals). So he had better have something in his arsenal to get them out.
“I didn’t do anything different in terms of the new three-batter rule,” he said. “I’ve just tried to become a better pitcher. I try not to go out there and flip the same pitch over and over again. The slider is a good pitch and I’d like to use my weapons to open it up and make that pitch more effective. I haven’t really put too much thought into this new rule. I think, for me, it’s an opportunity to show that I can handle more.”
The Mets have six starting pitchers and seven relievers (Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Brad Brach and Justin Wilson). Wilson is the only lefthander in the bullpen. MLB rules now permit a maximum of 13 pitchers on a team’s roster, so if everyone is healthy, the staff is set for Opening Day.
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