PORT ST. LUCIE — Mickey Callaway peered over Chris Flexen’s shoulder as the righthander threw his bullpen session. The face of the new Mets manager was serious, his eyes shrouded by dark sunglasses in the blinding Florida sun. He saw something — no one but him is quite sure what — and he leaned into Flexen to let him know.
Callaway didn’t have to go far because he was literally right behind him — a couple paces from breathing down his neck. Not one to miss anything good, Robert Gsellman, pitching beside Flexen, leaned in, too. The two listened intently, looking like overeager AP students, soaking up every word their teacher had to say.
“Mickey was getting just so into detail about pitching mechanics,” Gsellman said, a note of wonder in his voice. “I was really paying attention. I was like, ‘Wow.’ You’re a manager and you could be our pitching coach, too. He’s so knowledgeable of the game. I can’t wait to learn more from him.”
The Mickey Callaway era has come to First Data Field, and though Callaway has yet to have his first spring training media conference, his intent is clear. He’s the fixer — the guy who helped mold Cleveland into one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. And he is looking to foster the same type of success with the Mets. There are elite pitchers on this staff, and once-elite pitchers who have lost their way.
There also are guys like Flexen, Gsellman and Seth Lugo, who in the past couple of injury-ravaged years have proved anything but expendable. They didn’t come out of 2017 totally unscathed, either, and Callaway lends his expertise there, too.
“They’re great guys,” Gsellman said Saturday of Callaway and the real pitching coach, Dave Eiland. “The knowledge of the game is very high and I’m glad to be a part of it and work with them. Today I was talking to Mickey and he watched my bullpen. It’s kind of weird to have a manager standing behind you and giving you pitching pointers, but it’s good. It’s more eyes for us. We have good arms and it’s going to be a fun year.”
Fans and media members haven’t seen all that much of Callaway in action yet. He seemed likable and confident in his introductory media conference. Despite not having managerial experience, general manager Sandy Alderson said he chose Callaway because of his leadership ability, saying he fit the organization’s managerial criteria of being “structured but adaptable, patient but decisive.”
Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon was said to have had a three-hour lunch with Callaway and was so taken that he didn’t want him to walk away. Wilpon believes, he said last month, that pitching is the key to this season, and Callaway and Eiland could be the ones holding it.
“They have a couple of things that they want to do with their mechanics and their mental skills that [the pitchers] are going to use on the mound,” Wilpon said. The things “these guys bring could be a big turnaround, a big swing.”
And though there certainly were some hard feelings after Dan Warthen wasn’t brought back — many in the rotation had a strong relationship with their former pitching coach — the change of guard seems to be going smoothly so far.
Jacob DeGrom and Gsellman are fans, and Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia are on board with the changes Callaway wants to implement. Blevins said late last month that Callaway plans to use a “closer of the day” method, using matchups to decide who pitches the ninth inning rather than having a typical closer role. Familia said that was OK with him.
It’s anything but a complacent approach, and maybe that’s part of the Callaway era, too.
“We’re going to care more about the players than anyone ever has before,” Callaway said at his introductory media conference in October. “We’re going to know that they’re human beings and individuals and this is going to be a group that feels that every day that we come to the clubhouse and that’s going to be our main concern. We’re going to show we know this game is difficult and we care about you.”
Mickey Callaway is one of five new managers overseeing their first spring trainings, but the only former pitcher among the rookie skippers. The roster, and their primary position as a player:
Aaron Boone YankeesINF
Mickey Calloway MetsP
Alex CoraRed Sox INF
Gabe Kapler Phillies OF
Dave Martinez Nationals OF