Dave Eiland officially has been in his post for only one day, but the newly hired Mets pitching coach has been hard at work. His project: restoring a talented pitching staff left in tatters.
“I’ve had other jobs, other opportunities in my career, but I’ve never been more excited than I am now,” Eiland said in a telephone interview on Thursday, one day after the Mets finalized their revamped coaching staff. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready for this position than I am now. I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Health will make or break the Mets. They can’t afford a replay of last season, when injuries ruined the rotation and exposed the bullpen. With that in mind, Eiland has worked with new manager Mickey Callaway. They crafted an offseason throwing program that has been sent to all of the pitchers on the Mets’ 40-man roster, and that’s only the beginning.
“It’s not like they get an email with it on there and they’re on their own until February,” Eiland said. “Once this program starts in mid-December, I’m going to be talking to each one of them at least once a week, if not more.”
Eiland, 51, has won World Series titles as a pitching coach with the Yankees (2009) and the Royals (2015), the latter a triumph that came at the expense of the Mets. Two years later, the pitching core of that pennant-winning team has eroded — the Mets had the second-worst ERA (5.01) in the National League in 2017 — and Eiland is charged with putting the pieces back together again.
“I know the demands of New York,” he said. “I know the expectations. I know the energy, the passion, and I’m looking forward to getting right back in the middle of that. I want to be held accountable for how this staff pitches. I want those responsibilities. I want those demands. I know how good it is to win there. That’s the driving force.”
In the week before his hiring was made official, Eiland spent much of his time on the phone with the pitchers he’ll oversee. He’s spoken to most of them, including Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, whom he might visit in person once the throwing program begins.
Of that group, Harvey has the longest road ahead. He’s dealing with the effects of thoracic outlet syndrome, which has left him as only a shell of his former self on the mound.
“Just hearing him talk, the conviction in his voice, he’s focused,” Eiland said. “He’s determined to get this thing right and himself back to being Matt Harvey. What version of Matt Harvey is that going to be in 2018 because of the injuries and the surgeries he’s had? We don’t think anybody knows.”
The Mets think Eiland is a vital part of learning that answer.
After a 70-92 failure, general manager Sandy Alderson began what has been a fundamental reshaping of the Mets’ infrastructure. The training staff was expanded and overhauled. Coaches were chosen partly for their willingness to collaborate and embrace data.
Eiland checked those boxes. His views on coaching represent a blend of new and old, an appreciation of numbers mixed with common sense.
For instance, Eiland thinks the Mets should be mindful of the perils of exposing starting pitchers to a third time through the lineup. But he has no hard and fast rules.
“There’s going to be some nights when your No. 1 and 2 starter pitches like a fourth and fifth starter and you have to get him out of the game sooner than you think you would have to,” Eiland said. “There’s going to be nights when your fourth and fifth starter pitch like ones and twos and get deeper into the game than you thought they would. You use the numbers, you use the data. But you also trust your eyes, your experiences, and use common sense.”
On a daily basis, no two people will work closer to fix the Mets’ staff than Eiland and Callaway, formerly the Indians’ pitching coach. They share similar philosophies. Their connection goes back to 1999, when both pitched for the Rays. It continued during the last six years as they coached within the same division.
“Mickey is one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet,” Eiland said. “We kind of hit it off. I kind of took him under my wing a little bit, so to speak, not that I was some great grizzled guy. But tried to show him the ropes a little bit, get him comfortable, so our relationship goes back to there.”
Years later, the strength of that relationship will prove key. For the Mets to win, they must keep their pitchers on the field long enough to show their talent.
“The sky’s the limit, and that’s for anybody who has watched these guys and seen their ability,” Eiland said. “But the key — and all 30 teams are talking about this — the key is health. These guys have to post every five days. They all have to make between 25 and 33 starts apiece. How do you do that? It starts now.”