MILWAUKEE — Mickey Callaway has no qualms with Jeurys Familia as the Mets’ closer.
Familia blew his fourth save of the year — tied for the major-league lead — Wednesday against the Marlins, but remains the Mets’ top bullpen arm and their best option in the ninth inning of close games, Callaway said Thursday.
“He’s been our best reliever. There’s no way around that,” the manager said. “If you look at it, the year he had 51 saves (2016), all of his numbers are way better than that . . . He’s the best version of himself he’s ever been since he’s been pitching.”
Callaway exaggerated just a tad — several of Familia’s numbers this year lag behind the career bests he set in 2015, when he had a mere 43 saves — but the sentiment stands. Familia has bounced back from his suspension and injury-shortened 2017 with a 2.35 ERA and 1.13 WHIP and has been even better than he was in 2016, when he was an All-Star.
But what has not come to fruition are the offseason visions of Familia as the Mets’ primary closer in addition to a floating relief ace, able to pitch the most difficult inning late in the game, be it the ninth or earlier.
Callaway said he has refrained from deploying Familia in that way for two reasons: The Mets’ converted righthanded starters, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, have been so good. And their big bullpen addition of the offseason, righthander Anthony Swarzak, has been out with a left oblique strain for almost two months.
“We haven’t had any problem getting to save situations, and when we’ve gotten to those save situations, we’ve had our best reliever out there,” Callaway said. “So you can’t ask for a more ideal situation. It’s just, four times it hasn’t worked out.”
Gsellman (2.67 ERA) and Lugo (1.84 ERA, including 0.00 in 15 innings this month) have proved adept at managing the late innings — often for more than one inning per appearance — and have four holds apiece. Callaway trusts them enough in tight spots that he doesn’t need to call on Familia early (minus several instances last month, when Familia entered in the eighth for a save situation of more than three outs).
“Lugo and Gsellman turned out to be a lot better than we ever imagined coming out of the ’pen,” Callaway said.
Swarzak’s absence has been a significant one. Callaway said if Swarzak had been available — and when he is available again, perhaps as soon as next week — it would have allowed him to use Familia earlier if needed and give Swarzak the ninth.
“The one thing you do have to worry about is you can have a [Josh] Hader, but if you don’t have a [Corey] Knebel to finish it you’re in trouble,” Callaway said, referencing two of the Brewers’ late-inning options the Mets might see this weekend. “You can have an Andrew Miller (as the Indians do), but if you don’t have a Cody Allen you’re in trouble. I think that would have allowed us to think about some of that stuff.”
Callaway said the Mets still might move away from Familia’s traditional closer usage this season, though there is value in a pitcher knowing exactly when he will pitch.
Much of these late-inning machinations would be simplified with an extra couple of runs any given night. The Mets’ 4.04 runs per game — 23rd in the majors — don’t allow for much breathing room.
“Every inning we’ve thrown this year has been stressful,” Callaway said. “I’m sure there’s a comfort level for him out there closing. I think the thing that probably isn’t comfortable is that every game we play is a one-run game. That’s just how it is. We have to score more runs.”