Entering the 2021 season, it was the question mark followed by an urgent exclamation point for the Mets. How would the bullpen — a unit that routinely floundered during the COVID-19-shortened season last year and didn’t do so well the year before that, either — prove to be anything less than a liability for a team that was professed to be in win-now mode?
It hasn’t always been completely seamless. There have been times when the ghost of follies past would peek through and say boo, but by and large, the Mets have avoided the pitfalls of years past.
Sure, they were only 13-13 heading into Friday night’s game against the Diamondbacks, but the pitching returns have been heartening, and the results certainly would have been worse without them.
"It’s only one month," Luis Rojas said. "We need more than that for it to be part of a winning formula, but it’s really nice to see. We’ve had some really good starts. I’m glad those starts are getting followed by really good pitching from our bullpen, so everything is working because the stuff is there, but I’m glad they’ve been commanding a lot better than we did last year."
The Mets’ bullpen entered Friday at 5-2 with a 3.45 ERA, good for third-best in the National League and eighth overall. Including their starters, highlighted by Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman, their pitching is among the best — a 3.09 ERA (second in MLB), a 1.09 WHIP and a 3.95 K/BB ratio, the best in baseball. Compare it to last year, when their bullpen had a 4.60 ERA and seven blown saves.
Much of that has to do with the back end: Edwin Diaz, Miguel Castro and Trevor May, who’s been nothing short of a revelation. May has a 1.59 ERA in 11 1⁄3 innings with an 0.80 FIP.
The bullpen had posted a 2.08 ERA with seven walks and 33 strikeouts in the last nine games.
"They’ve done a good job," Rojas said. "They come in different roles — we had Castro throwing the seventh, throwing the eighth inning but he came in as an opener the other day . . . Some guys who have rough first outings, they come back to throw the ball a lot better. Jacob Barnes is throwing the ball really well. I remember Trevor May’s first outing was a little shaky and I mean, he’s been lights-out ever since . . . You name it, guys have done a good job."
Rojas also highlighted the progress made by Robert Gsellman, whom he also worked with in the minor leagues. In 2020, he had a woeful 9.64 ERA in six games. He is down to 3.40 this year in as many appearances.
"He’s back to his old self," Rojas said. "As his manager in the minor leagues, that’s what he was. He used the sink, he used the changeup, he had a curveball and a slider and he’s trusting his changeup right now. He’s mixing, he’s [throwing]east-west, he’s using some sink down below in the zone, so he’s back to his old self. Last year, he wanted to expand the use of four quadrants, and I think that exposed him a little bit."
It is, of course, a learning process, and there are plenty of question marks remaining, but at least the immediate alarm has abated.