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Mickey Callaway on managing players, pitchers and why bullpens are volatile

Manager Mickey Callaway of the New York Mets

Manager Mickey Callaway of the New York Mets before a game against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on May 21, 2018. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Mickey Callaway has quickly determined that being a manager is unlike any other job he has had in baseball. Beneath what he tries to project as a calm, take-it-as-it-comes demeanor is his realization of the demanding position the rookie skipper now occupies.

“It is different when you’re the pitching coach, you live and die by your [pitchers] throwing every pitch,’’ he said Sunday.

Callaway was a minor league pitching coach until 2013 when the Indians elevated him to the big leagues. He parlayed Cleveland’s success into his first managerial job with the Mets and was 11-1 for the best 12-game start in franchise history.

Now, there’s some fraying around the edges as the team continues to slump.

“I think that the game as a whole you feel like you’re part of everything that happens that day, and when you’re in a tough stretch like this it doesn’t feel great,’’ Callaway said. “The players don’t feel great especially when you know we’re not winning games. And they have to deal with their individual stuff that day. Now obviously they care about their teammates and stuff, [but] being a manager you feel the emotions of every player come out, because you feel like you’re doing everything with them.’’

Callaway’s style in discussing his players has been supportive, but he took something of a detour Sunday after the Cubs completed a four-game sweep in a fundamentally unsound game by the Mets.

While praising his pitching, Callaway took Steven Matz to task when the Long Island lefty made a soft toss to first base trying to keep a runner close only to have the runner on third steal home in what had been a scoreless game.

Callaway said Matz had been instructed to throw the ball harder to first. He took the opportunity to single out Matz as an example of players not being focused on in-game situations.

“You practice it at all the time, you stress it all the time — and then it just doesn’t happen,’’ Callaway said. “I think the way things have been going that guys have a lot of pressure on themselves and when that pressure kind of takes over. It’s kind of like Matz when he’s not making that adjustment with that routine, you know, things kind of fester and he’s not able to do the things that he’s capable of doing because he just can’t think in that moment and I think maybe that’s affecting us overall . . . We have passionate fans that want to see a good ballclub out there. so we have to do some things to get over that and make sure that we’re focused every second of the day that we’re out there.”

Callaway’s sword on the pen

Callaway may have raised some eyebrows when he was asked about the volatility of relief pitching, where hurlers can go from being effective to ineffective from one season to the next. He wasn’t speaking about his often leaky pen in particular. He took on all of baseball.

“I would think first and foremost if you just look at the reason they’re in the pen,” Callaway said. “And this is not a knock on relievers at all but when you’re coming up through the minor leagues these guys were starters or whatever. They were moved to the pen for a reason, whether it was they didn’t throw consistent strikes enough, [they had] one and a half pitches, or that second pitch but he can’t throw it for strikes, but he gets some swings and misses.

“So, I think some of those reasons they’re not starters once they get to the major leagues, for whatever reason, could [be] too inconsistent year from year to year. Now, you have your dominant closers that were going to be closers that are consistent every year but I think that if you really think about it that’s probably the main reason that relievers are so volatile. Another reason is a guy gets put in the pen and maybe his mechanics are such that it might not keep him very healthy in the long run being a starter. So they battle poor mechanics or inefficient mechanics and that has its part to play year after year.’’

Callaway was 4-11 with a 6.27 ERA in five big league seasons. He appeared in 40 games, 20 as a reliever.

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