Amid the few pleasant surprises in the Mets’ miserable season is a rookie righthander who is becoming a name to remember for their bullpen of the future: Grant Hartwig.
In about a month since the Mets promoted him to the majors for the first time on June 19, Hartwig quietly has been one of the team’s most reliable relievers, leading the group in innings (12) and ranking second in ERA (2.25).
Buck Showalter mostly has used Hartwig in middle-of-the-game, relatively low-leverage spots, but with his overall effectiveness — along with the inconsistencies of other options — the manager has shown a willingness to plug him into innings that matter, too.
Given the Mets’ likely status as trade-deadline sellers, plus a couple of late-game pitchers who will be attractive to other clubs, there may well be more opportunities to come, too. If Hartwig indeed is a good major-leaguer, he likely will have a chance to prove it.
“He’s off to an awesome start, which is what you need,” Adam Ottavino said. “I’m excited to see how we use him the rest of the way. He’s definitely earned probably already a little more of a role, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Ottavino, an elder statesman of the bullpen along with closer David Robertson, has been something of a sounding board for Hartwig in recent weeks.
Ottavino is happy to lend his expertise to younger relievers, but in this case, Hartwig said he sought him out specifically: “I really wanted to talk to him.”
The two are similar pitchers, Hartwig noted, including throwing from an arm slot out wide and featuring repertoires that include sinkers, sliders and cutters, a pitch they both added/emphasized this season to attack lefthanded hitters.
Ottavino has mastered an ability that the 25-year-old Hartwig knows will be important: availability.
Showing up to the ballpark every day and knowing you might pitch has been one of the major adjustments to life in the big leagues, Hartwig said.
“It’s different being here versus the minor leagues. For us, especially in our organization, we take a conservative approach in the minor leagues where you pitch, you have days off, all that kind of stuff,” Hartwig said. “But here, you gotta be ready every day. Just getting used to that and just putting myself in the right position to be available.”
That has included monitoring his workload in non-game situations — limiting practice, basically — so that he is at the top of his game once he gets on the mound.
“A lot of guys ask me about that stuff because, if anything, that’s what I’ve been,” said Ottavino, who ranks eighth in the majors with 633 relief appearances since 2012, his rookie season. “These days, they’re not pitching to win the games [in the minors] as much as they play to a script and keep everybody fresh and all that sort of stuff. Up here it’s different.
“Talking to him about his routine, what he does currently, how he feels and how much practice he feels like he needs — all that stuff goes into it for each individual guy, because you have to balance the practice aspect and the rest aspect to try to be durable.”
Hartwig has pitched on back-to-back days only once in the majors. That matches his total across parts of three seasons in the minors.
“That’s an expectation when you come here; you have to be ready to do that,” Hartwig said.
He added that he has been proud of his strike-throwing ability but knows he has plenty to learn. His walk rate per nine innings in the majors (4.50) is lower than it was in Triple-A Syracuse (5.26).
Ottavino likened the old reliever/new reliever relationship to another one, in which merely being told what to do doesn’t always work.
“It’s like a parent, though. You don’t always listen to everything they have to say,” he said. “You have to learn it for yourself. I think that’s how it’s going to be with him, too. He’s done a good job of asking questions and he’s already got a great grasp on things for a rookie. But experience is going to teach him a lot of things that nobody else can.”