PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mickey Callaway was there for Corey Kluber’s Cy Young seasons. He shepherded the Indians pitching staff as they repeatedly led the American League in strikeouts. In 2017, when that team won 102 games, a big part was that their starting pitching had a league-low 3.30 ERA.
Compare that to the Mets’ rotation last year — battered, bruised, and very formerly elite, with only two shutdown pitchers left (one of whom got hurt). And yet . . . .
“I got to sit there and watch bullpens in the last week and I’ve never seen anything like that,” Callaway said. “The amount of very good arms and quality stuff we have in this Mets organization, I promise you nobody else has that. I have been around some pretty good arms and this is the best group of arms and stuff that I’ve ever seen, from top to bottom. It’s really amazing.”
On Tuesday, Callaway — one of the most lauded pitching coaches in recent years — was adamant in his appraisal of the Mets’ arms. Often during the new manager’s first spring training news conference, he reiterated that this was no reclamation project. Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler weren’t lost and trying to find their way; they simply needed routine and structure to bring out the qualities that once made the Citi Field mound one of the most fearful places in baseball.
“We believe in attacking; if you can be efficient you can pitch longer,” Callaway said, adding that he would continue to be a proponent of breaking balls. Pitching coach “Dave Eiland prepares these guys to be the best [version of] themselves he possibly can, and that’s going to include the way they attack, the way they control the running game, the way they attack the third time through [a lineup]. He is going to educate these guys and make them better pitchers.”
Of course, to do that, they actually have to stay healthy. Of the presumptive five starters, deGrom was the sole survivor. The other four had lengthy stints on the disabled list, and only Noah Syndergaard (torn lat muscle) returned to pitch at the end of last season — part farewell, part proof that his arm hadn’t fallen off at the shoulder.
Though he danced slightly around the question, Callaway indicated he would consider managing his pitchers’ innings, in addition to providing them with a set routine that will be meant to keep them healthy.
“I’ve talked to them: ‘Hey, when I take you out, you’re not going to be happy about it. I don’t expect you to be happy about it. But there are going to be reasons behind it and I’m going to tell you those reasons and if you want to hear more, you come and see me,’ ” he said. “That’s just how it’s going to have to be.
“Processes and routines are what’s going to truly keep these guys healthy moving forward.”
But there are many questions. Harvey battled off-the-field issues, questioned his confidence, and lost the zip on his fastball after undergoing surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. Wheeler had a 5.21 ERA last year before getting hurt, and before that, he hadn’t pitched since 2014. Matz’s ERA ballooned, to 6.08 in 13 starts, and he’s never made it through a full season without getting hurt.
But Callaway believes.
“They all looked really good coming in,” he said of the trio. “They’re throwing the ball where they wanted to. If anything, we’re having to pull them back a tad, saying, hey, don’t overdo it, we know you feel great. There are smiles on everyone’s faces because they’re coming in healthy and what I’ve seen so far has kind of blown me away and I’m excited to get to see these guys face hitters.”