TORONTO — Relief isn’t the right word for what the Mets’ bullpen provided Tuesday.
Manager Mickey Callaway had a fully rested bullpen and a bevy of options with the Mets up by five in the late innings against the Blue Jays. But as he called on his most reliable relievers — or those who are supposed to be — no one did the job and the Mets turned a well-rounded offensive and pitching effort into a sudden loss.
The Mets dropped the series opener to Toronto, 8-6, for their 11th loss in 13 games, and this one was squarely on the relief corps.
The implosion occurred in a hurry when Zack Wheeler exited after 6 1⁄3 innings of two-run ball, another strong outing for the righthander. The Mets also wasted homers by Asdrubal Cabrera, Devin Mesoraco and Wilmer Flores.
“That’s the worst part about this,” Anthony Swarzak said. “Wheeler again threw a gem. He threw the ball great. We should have won this game.”
Swarzak was the first culprit and perhaps the primary one. Entering with a runner on third and one out, he retired only one of his four batters and ultimately was charged with three runs. Robert Gsellman yielded a tying three-run home run by Yangervis Solarte. Rookie Tim Peterson, who has quickly climbed the bullpen depth chart, was trusted with the eighth in a tie game. He served up Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s two-run shot to left for the Jays’ first lead of the night.
Swarzak’s ERA shot up to 6.28. Gsellman is at 4.44 (including 5.61 since the start of May).
“We made a couple of pitches that we didn’t quite execute and they put them out of the park. Those were the big hits,” Callaway said. “But the walks probably led to our demise tonight. We have to go out there and attack hitters with our best stuff, our best pitches.”
Callaway’s other issue with his relievers was pitch selection. He didn’t like the fact that Gsellman gave Solarte a 2-and-2 changeup after he had firmly fouled off a couple of curveballs, because a changeup is off-speed like the curve but doesn’t move nearly as much.
“It wasn’t the height of [Gsellman’s] pitches, which is something that has been hurting him,” Callaway said. “I thought the sequence allowed Solarte to put a better swing on a pitch.”
Callaway also thought Swarzak lacked confidence in his fastball. Swarzak walked two batters, including No. 9 hitter Devon Travis with two outs and nobody on, a 10-pitch at-bat ending in a slider.
“Just not seeing a lot of confidence from him right now in his fastball,” Callaway said.
Said Swarzak: “I don’t feel that way. Right now I’m trying to find a remedy to get hitters out. I had success throwing some sliders in the past, so coming in with runners on, I’m trying to throw that slider. Right now it’s not working, but it’s a process. It really is.”
The Mets’ bullpen has a 4.90 ERA, 27th in baseball. And it isn’t necessarily all that surprising; last year, they finished 29th with a 4.82 ERA.
Their offseason solution: Sign Swarzak to a two-year, $14-million deal. He had a 2.48 ERA for the White Sox and Brewers in 2017 but before that didn’t have much of a track record of success, aside from a strong 2013.
He said a big difference between this year and last is his workload. “It’s July 3 and I got 10 innings or whatever it is. I don’t really know. I’m not a stat person,” said Swarzak, who has pitched 14 1⁄3 innings and missed two months because of injury.
“I’ve had some injuries this year, but mentally I feel fine. Physically, I’m getting stronger every day. My stuff is better now than it was two weeks ago, so maybe in two weeks I’ll be the best pitcher in baseball.
“I’m not joking. I don’t know. You have to continue to work every day, trust your process, play for your teammates.”