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Jeurys Familia adapting nicely to his new role as closer

Jeurys Familia of the New York Mets celebrates

Jeurys Familia of the New York Mets celebrates after the final out of a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Citi Field on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jeurys Familia reached into his locker and fished out a baseball. The Mets closer split his fingers and placed them on the seams. Then, he moved his arm forward as if to fire a pitch.

His modified version of the splitter, he explained, came about from his failed attempts to throw an effective changeup. So he adjusted the grip, and he found that the pitch might one day become an equalizer against dangerous lefties.

"It's helped me a lot," said Familia, whose ascent has been fueled by this kind of adaptability.

The results of his continuing work have been clear this season, when the Mets have demanded more from him than ever before.

In 11 instances, manager Terry Collins has called upon Familia to nail down the save. He has yet to falter, posting a 1.80 ERA in 15 appearances while racking up 19 strikeouts to only three walks.

"I don't want to get too high," Mets bullpen coach Rickey Bones said, "but I think he keeps growing and keeps getting better and better the more he goes out there, the more that he gets into these situations."

That the Mets believe Familia is capable of more speaks to what can be accomplished when raw ability meets dedication to craft. "The most important thing is if you trust your pitches, if you trust your stuff, you're going to be OK," he said. "I trust all of my pitches."

The 6-3 righthander has always possessed a blazing fastball that can touch 98. He's also featuring a nasty slider to go along with his nastiest offering, a two-seamer with enough natural sinking action to challenge even the best righthanded hitters in the game.

But the difference has been in execution. Once labeled as too wild to cut it as a starting pitcher, the 24-year-old Familia has transformed himself by sharpening his command.

"This guy is pounding the strike zone like at no other time that I've seen him," Collins said.

Familia has long been a model student who has worked with an eye toward the future.

Over the last few years, the Mets have been a stopping point for a diverse group of arms, from young guns such as Matt Harvey to veterans like LaTroy Hawkins and Bartolo Colon.

Familia has learned from them all. "He's listened to those guys," Bones said, "and has put it all to work."

On paydays on the road, when others might take their checks to the nearest mall, Familia made it a point to find his bank. That way, he could make deposits into the fund that would go toward building a family home in the Dominican Republic.

In spring training, Familia reported for 7 a.m. workouts to prepare himself for a summer of setting up his friend and former closer Jenrry Mejia. Instead, with Mejia serving a PED suspension, Familia has thrived as his replacement. With success has come more confidence. "I think his location's better," catcher Anthony Recker said. "But I think that's just a derivative of just being more confident, feeling like he's out there and throw anything and get the guy out."

Of course, some work remains to be done, particularly against lefties. Though they are 1-for-18 against Familia this season, he still struggles to elevate his fastball against them.

His two-seamer, a weapon against righties, can be vulnerable when thrown to lefties. To make that sinker more dangerous, Familia must get more comfortable throwing it inside.

And then there's the splitter, which at 88-90 mph could become a useful wrinkle to use against lefties if Familia sharpens his command of the pitch.

Collins believes it's all within reach for Familia. "One year ago, this guy was being talked about like he was going to be sent out," Collins said. "Now, he's leading all of baseball in saves. I mean, it's remarkable. And for me, he gets all the credit for it."

Syndergaard sizzles. Top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard further solidified his case to be called up the next time the Mets need a spot starter.

Pitching for Triple-A Las Vegas, he allowed two runs in eight innings and struck out eight against Albuquerque. He also homered. He has an 0.82 ERA in his last three starts.

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