Mets pitcher Edwin Diaz during a spring training workout, Friday...

Mets pitcher Edwin Diaz during a spring training workout, Friday Feb. 23, 2024 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — What Adam Ottavino missed most about Edwin Diaz during the latter’s year on the sidelines was the walks to the bullpen together.

Their status as veteran late-game relievers affords them a certain privilege: They don’t need to spend all night out there. Instead, they meander down after the early innings, a slow stroll during a break in the action, a signal that the game is closer to getting real.

Without Diaz, forced to the sidelines by a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, Ottavino had David Robertson as a companion for a while last season. But by midsummer, Robertson was gone, too.

Now, Diaz is back — as a pitcher and as a presence, to the delight of his fellow Mets' relievers. He will make his Grapefruit League debut on Monday night against the Marlins, his return to a major-league mound coming four days before the first anniversary of his injury.

“It was a bummer not having him last year,” Ottavino said. “For the people who are delayed-walk-down-to-the-bullpen guys, it’s nice to walk out with Edwin. I feel like I can stay under the radar because he’s so popular. People want to yell for him and stuff like that. I like walking out with him. It feels good. Like, yeah, we’re both walking out here.

“It’s like if you’re walking next to Mike Tyson. You feel like you have a dangerous [person] with you. Nobody is going to mess with you.”

Those vibes very much carry over to the ninth inning, when the baddest closer on the planet does his real work — when he delivers the knockout punch, if you will.

 

The last time the Mets saw him in game action, Diaz had an elite 2022: 1.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, nearly an average of two strikeouts per inning and zero blown saves after May 24.

Having a pitcher of that caliber impacts more than just the final frame, according to those whose job is to set him up.

Ottavino, Drew Smith and Brooks Raley all made the same half-joke: If they’re in a jam, Diaz can bail them out.

“It takes the pressure off of literally everybody,” Smith said. “Knowing you have a guy like that at the back end of the bullpen makes your job easier, especially if you’re pitching the eighth inning and he’s fresh. You know if you get into trouble, he can come in and clean up your mess.”

Jake Diekman, new to the relief corps this season, said: “To have your bona fide closer back and healthy and you know the ninth is his, it makes the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth way easier for [Carlos Mendoza] to manage and put together.”

Ottavino added: “You know that you just have a beast at the end of the game.”

Given how careful the Mets have been with Diaz over the past 52 weeks, including late last season when they opted against having him make a cameo and this spring training when they built up his workload slower than normal, expect that to continue at least early in the season. “The training wheels,” Raley called it. They have to protect him.

That is fine with the rest of the Mets. They understand how hard he worked to get back. When Diaz’s injury relegated him to observer in 2023, his absence one of the many reasons their season was a failure, they were watching him, too.

“Every day he came to the yard with a smile on his face and was getting after it,” Raley said. “I was really impressed. There were never really any days where I felt like he didn’t want to be there. I know he wanted to play last year, too.

“That’s a character thing that you think would be overwhelming in this sport, but not all the time. A guy who really loves the sport, is really passionate about it and is obviously really good at it. So we’re all looking forward to having him back.”

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