Some would argue that Jeurys Familia shouldn’t be pitching in the World Baseball Classic with a likely suspension for domestic violence hanging over his head. On top of that, a segment of the Mets’ fan base might never forgive him for those allegations.
But Familia remains on loan to the Dominican Republic, in the role of closer for the defending WBC champs, and there was not a dissenting voice to be heard this past weekend amid the deafening roar at Marlins Park, where the unconditional love registered at eardrum-busting levels.
Familia has declined to discuss his case since reporting for spring training, as the penalty has yet to be announced by Major League Baseball. In the meantime, consider this one last look at Familia, at this highly competitive level, for as long as the Dominican Republic stays alive in the tournament.
Judging by how Familia performed in his back-to-back outings, and three appearances in four days, the Mets are going to have a major void to fill during what could turn out to be a 30-game suspension. And Familia might end up needing the rest.
He pitched 2 1⁄3 perfect innings, struck out four, earned a save and repeatedly reached triple-digits with his fastball. Last season, Familia’s fastball average was 96.7 mph, according to Fangraphs.com, with a peak of 99.3.
“I think all the work I did in the offseason — with my shoulders, my legs and a little bit on my delivery — helped me a lot,” Familia said Sunday at Marlins Park. “And I think that’s why my velocity is better right now.”
Familia said Sunday morning that he didn’t anticipate being used in the matinee against Colombia, not after throwing a high-intensity 11 pitches to save Saturday night’s wild 7-5 victory over Team USA in a super-amped atmosphere. But once that game went to extra innings and the Dominican team took a 10-3 lead in the 11th, manager Tony Peña (also the Yankees’ first-base coach) didn’t want to take any chances with the new tiebreaker rule that puts runners at first and second to start those innings. In came Familia, who threw nine more pitches to finish in the non-save situation.
“Look, the game dictates the moment and when you do things,” Peña said Sunday. “Why did I use Jeurys Familia? He only threw 11 pitches [Saturday]. He’s the man that was the freshest. [Hansel] Robles threw 16 and [Alex] Colome also 13. I have to try to take care of my guys, and I will. I spoke with Familia before the game and he told me he was fine.”
That’s probably legit, given the relatively light pitch count. But it’s barely mid-March, and that type of frequent usage is rare — if not unheard of — at this stage of the Grapefruit League.
Plus, love it or hate it, the WBC is as close as there is to real baseball at this time of year, and the atmosphere ramps up to a playoff level during games that involve the Dominican Republic, a team on an 11-0 roll dating to the 2013 WBC and one that takes this tournament very, very seriously. Peña insists that he puts the well-being of his players above all else when it comes to in-game decisions.
“Whenever I warm up somebody, I use them in the game,” Peña said. “I don’t want those guys to warm up twice, because I need to protect those kids. They are here, and want to win, but at the same time, as a manager, you don’t want to hurt anybody. I want to make sure that everybody stays in good health.”
With Famila’s October struggles of the past two seasons, that made Saturday night’s U.S. showdown, before a sellout crowd, a worthy rehearsal for what should be awaiting him on the playoff stage another six months from now.
Familia pitched a perfect ninth, with a fastball that reached as high as 100.5 mph. Jonathon Lucroy, the leadoff hitter that inning, actually got his bat on that 0-and-2 pitch, flying out to rightfield, after fouling off a pair of 99-mph sinkers and an 89-mph slider. Brandon Crawford rolled over a first-pitch, 98-mph sinker for a grounder to short and Familia whiffed Ian Kinsler, coming back from a 2-and-0 count.
The game’s final pitch was a 99-mph sinker that Kinsler swung through. As the stadium shook, Familia celebrated with the bow-and-arrow routine Fernando Rodney has imprinted upon his bullpen mates as the signature finish for Dominican victories.
“It was the same feeling I had in the World Series,” Familia said. “The difference is now I think I’m more prepared. I know how to better control myself and deal with my emotions in that situation.”
If that’s true, Familia should emerge from the WBC more confident, with the Mets perhaps getting an upgrade from the previous version. But as impressive as Familia has been, it’s accompanied by the knowledge that these almost certainly will be the last meaningful pitches he throws for a while.