Edwin Diaz showing his best stuff as Mets' closer this season
Edwin Diaz did not toy with the player of this generation, and he didn’t hesitate.
When he faced Mike Trout in the eighth inning on Sunday, with Trout representing the tying run for the Angels in the last game of the Mets' 10-game road trip, he didn’t even throw his highest heat, just his extremely high heat. It was a laser, a 99.7-mph fastball in the upper-outside quadrant of the strike zone, the thing he knows Trout sometimes struggles to hit hard, and Trout swung idly through it. Where others demur, Diaz offered a challenge.
“It was their best against ours,” Buck Showalter said simply.
That’s really all the description that’s needed for Diaz so far this season, though Pete Alonso offered his personal flavor to the proceedings: “He had his bad-boy stuff today,” Alonso said. “It sucks for the other hitters.”
Sure does. Diaz, who recorded his 12th save Sunday, a five-out, five-strikeout test, dialed it up to 101.6 mph, throwing his fastest pitch of the year and third-fastest of his career. But while velocity is a big factor, it may not be the biggest one, he said. After all, he’s always thrown hard, and despite that, last year was a difficult one — he pitched to a 3.45 ERA — and his last non COVID-shortened season, 2019, was even worse, a 5.59 ERA with seven blown saves (granted, that was during the juiced-ball era).
“Every year I’ve improved but this year, I feel like I’ve been doing whatever I can to help this team,” Diaz said. “I think the command on my pitches [has been the biggest improvement]. I think the command on my fastball, slider, that’s been great for me. I’ve been working more fastball up now and [Sunday], I was making that pitch. I made it to Trout and [Anthony] Rendon and the other guy, so I feel really good right now.”
His strikeout percentage this year is at 48%, the highest of his career, and his expected ERA is at an all-time low, at 1.77. His actual ERA is a tidy 2.13. He overpowers with the fastball but is devastating with his slider, which clocks, on average, more than 8 mph slower than the high heat. Sunday, after hitting almost 102, he came back with a slider that swooped in at 90 mph — a pitch that helped him strike out the side in the ninth. Couple that with the fact that the slider breaks more than 41% more than the major-league average this year, and it’s clear Diaz has a cocktail for demolition — one that was sometimes lacking in his early years with the Mets, but one the franchise certainly hoped for when they traded for him ahead of the 2019 season.
“I step back and [I think] you’re lucky to be here to watch a really good pitcher against obviously a great hitter and today, the pitcher won,” Showalter said of the Trout-Diaz showdown. “The good thing about Edwin is that he’s welcome to the challenge. He’s not threatened at all. He knows how important it is to our team in situations like that.”
And maybe that microcosm says more about Diaz in the bigger picture. He was, after all, lambasted, and often shrouded in boos, after his early struggles in Flushing. But where many athletes falter, Diaz has regrouped. Now, when his iconic trumpets sound at Citi Field, the crowd cheers.
“That’s what he does,” Taijuan Walker said. “He comes in and he faces their best players and gets them out. He’s an elite closer, probably the best in the game, and having him come in for a five-out save, it’s good for us and it’s going to be good for us in September and October.”