Edwin Di­az pitches in the second inning of the Mets'...

Edwin Di­az pitches in the second inning of the Mets' spring training game against the Miami Marlins on March 24, 2022, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Sue Ogrocki


An empty Clover Park was hardly the ideal simulation Monday for Edwin Diaz, but there was a slight problem with this particular turn in his schedule.

The Mets didn’t have a slot for Diaz the previous afternoon against the visiting Cardinals because Max Scherzer, one of the team’s co-aces, played the roles of middle reliever, setup man and closer.

So Diaz, along with a high-leverage chunk of the Mets’ bullpen, wound up facing mostly minor-leaguers during Monday’s intrasquad game, a late March tuneup. Nothing could be further from the Citi Field experience, as Diaz jogs in to the blaring trumpets of his theme song, saddled with the suffocating pressures of a save situation.

But Diaz already has that part down — the adrenaline rush surging through the hazy vibe of Flushing anxiety, followed by either the triumphant chords of “New York Groove” or the howling boos hurled by a suddenly hostile Citi crowd. Now entering his fourth season as a Met, Diaz benefits as much from the scar tissue of the bad times as the confidence forged by his success.

He’s a different person since arriving from the Mariners in the winter of 2018, the key piece in a seven-player trade that sent former first-round draft pick Jarred Kelenic to Seattle and brought Robinson Cano. And, Diaz would like to believe, an improved closer.

“One hundred percent,” Diaz said Monday. “When I got here, everything was a little fast for me. But since then, I’ve just tried to focus on the baseball, do my job, and I feel like the past two years have been really good for me.”

For Diaz, the weapons are the same. But after putting on 20 pounds before the 2021 season, he threw harder than ever, with a four-seam fastball that averaged 98.8 mph and a slider at 90.6. The issue has always been command, and as a result, trying to prevent those pitches from winding up on the wrong side of the fence.

In 2019, his first season in Flushing, Diaz was teeing up home runs at a rate of 2.3 every nine innings. The next year, during the pandemic-shortened schedule without fans in the ballparks, Diaz trimmed that number to 0.7. He shrunk it to 0.4 last season — better than his All-Star year (and eighth-place Cy Young Award finish) with the Mariners in 2018.

Slashing that particular statistic isn’t the only measure of performance. But if you’re asked to close out leads of three runs or fewer, it’s best not to give them back on one swing. And for all the mechanical tweaks that helped Diaz during the past two seasons (2.95 ERA, 14.2 K/9, 38-for-48 in save chances) his greatest asset may just be the experience.

“The way those fluctuations have run for him, I think it bodes well for this year,” manager Buck Showalter said Monday. “You’ve got to stay away from the sky-is-falling syndrome. Things are never as bad as they seem, they’re never as good as they seem. You’ve got to stay in reality.

“It’s a tough job, a hard job, especially in the National League East. And it’s not for the weak of makeup. The way he’s rebounded from some things, he’s got a pretty good feel for what’s ahead of him and what the expectations are.”

Early on, Diaz wound up drowning in those expectations, making then-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen look worse with each subsequent appearance. Not only for recruiting a combustible closer who looked overmatched in New York, but for shipping out a top prospect in Kelenic and adding $120 million of Cano’s bloated salary to their payroll through 2023.

Diaz is aware of the baggage he showed up with, which remains tied to him. But he’s also worked on the parts he’s able to control, and to his credit, he has never run from the scrutiny.

On occasion, the failures have been spectacular blowups. After that first year with the Mets, there were legit questions about whether he would get a second. As Showalter suggested, that perseverance is a strength in itself.

“That’s important,” Diaz said. “Because if I do bad, I’m not going to blame somebody else. I blame myself. I’m the one that’s on the mound, throwing the ball. And if I do good, I give the credit to myself and my teammates. Every time I step in front of the cameras, I’m going to say the truth.”

As the closer of a $280 million team, one with deep October aspirations, the stakes again are sky-high for Diaz. Truth is, during his Mets tenure, he’s never been better prepared.

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