PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — With offseason renovations to the bullpen — among their greatest weaknesses a season ago — long complete, the Mets had a ribbon-cutting of sorts Saturday at First Data Field.
Justin Wilson, Jeurys Familia and closer Edwin Diaz, the big three relief additions, pitched in that order and in the same game for the first time.
The results were generally disastrous. Wilson and Familia each allowed a pair of runs and Diaz walked two, but a random Grapefruit League game against the Astros didn’t and won’t hurt the Mets’ belief that their new bullpen will be a strength in 2019.
“Out there healthy, pitching in their first outings, you couldn’t be happier,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “The stuff is there with all three of them, and that’s what you’re looking for at this point. You kind of throw the numbers out the door. You’re just hoping they get through it healthy and they feel good in their first outing.”
Diaz’s outing was most noteworthy, if only because it was his exhibition debut and his first game in a Mets uniform after coming over in the blockbuster trade with the Mariners that sent prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn (among others) to Seattle and also brought Robinson Cano to New York.
After walking his first two hitters, Diaz settled in. He struck out Abraham Toro to end the inning as his pitch count drifted above 20.
Diaz’s debut was delayed by a purposely slow build-up — out of respect for his heavy workload in 2018 — which means he is following a schedule similar to what he used last year as a Mariner. He said he would like to pitch in seven or eight exhibition games, including a couple of back-to-backs, to get ready for the regular season.
“I take it easy, because I want to be ready for the season,” said Diaz, who will turn 25 this month. “I feel great. My arm is in shape. I’m ready to go. I have to keep working, a couple stuff with mechanics, but my arm feels great today. I was a little [over]excited. I flew open a little bit with my shoulder, but my arm is feeling great, so I’m ready to go.”
The Mets still plan to keep Diaz in the ninth inning, Callaway said. A year ago at this time, the Mets flirted with using Familia — then the team’s closer — in a less-strict floating relief ace role, a la Andrew Miller with the Indians in recent years. The idea is to use your best reliever in the toughest/most important late inning, which isn’t always necessarily the ninth.
That never came to fruition for the Mets last year, and Callaway doesn’t want to experiment with Diaz. He cited two reasons: Diaz is really, really good, and the Mets believe strongly in their other options. “We didn’t have Diaz last year,” Callaway said. “We didn’t have a guy that did that [1.96 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 57 saves]. The way he went about his business last year and was probably the best closer in baseball, to take him out of that role would be tough.”
Aside from Familia and Wilson, to whom Callaway does not want to assign inning-specific roles, the Mets plan to rely on Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.
“It’s the four other guys we have in front of [Diaz] who we feel can put out those fires, who we feel some of these other teams probably don’t have the luxury to have,” Callaway said. “And they kind of have to use their best guy in the highest-leverage situation in the seventh or eighth or whatever. I feel like we have five deep that no matter who’s coming up, we’re going to be able to get those guys out.”