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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Luis Rojas, possible fall guy for Mets, looks more off-balance than ever

Mets manager Luis Rojas is booed by fans

Mets manager Luis Rojas is booed by fans as he walks to the dugout during the 11th inning against the Cardinals in an MLB game at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

With Luis Rojas in the final weeks of his Mets’ contract, and the team hunting for a president of baseball operations, it’s reasonable to expect he won’t be back as manager.

That’s not entirely his fault. Rojas, who just turned 40 this month, was an emergency hire two years ago, took the job with zero MLB experience and had to navigate through a pandemic in his rookie season.

It was a tall order from the jump, and with the Mets likely to again miss the playoffs, Rojas winds up as the face of the underachieving franchise. Truth is, the Mets have a clubhouse full of those faces, and few have come to Rojas’ rescue with the team’s postseason fate up in the air.

The Mets got steamrolled Wednesday night, 11-4, as the Cardinals drilled four homers in completing a three-game sweep that should silence any more playoff talk in Flushing. It was mostly non-competitive, with Tylor Megill digging a 5-0 hole in the first inning.

But where this series really unraveled was Tuesday night’s 7-6 loss in 11 innings, when Rojas seemed like a manager being tugged in too many different directions. Obviously, he’s made more than his share of questionable strategy decisions. But in blowing through the bullpen Tuesday, a parade kicked off by Marcus Stroman’s exit after six innings and only 89 pitches, it was worth asking the manager if the Mets need to play with more urgency down the stretch.

Given the stakes at this point of the season, I asked Rojas if it was possible to ditch the more cautionary approach of the previous five months to go full throttle for this last sprint. Lobby for another inning from a starter, squeeze a few more pitches from a reliever. And was it necessary to let the players know more would be required of them this month?

"That happens organically in the clubhouse around this time, but it doesn’t start in September -- it starts in August," Rojas said before Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals. "Who’s going to be willing to pitch three in a row, maybe four. There’s guys that are going to show up and do things like that. But realistically, there’s guys that can’t do it.

"From our end to push and ask them to do it when they can’t, we’re compromising a lot of things -- performance and health -- from a player that’s just not feeling good to do it. There’s where the balance comes."

If a manager is lucky, they don’t have to ask. But when they do, it helps to have a clubhouse culture where players hold each other accountable, as that peer pressure can make up for a manager’s ever-shrinking authority these days. And since Rojas brought up the health aspect, I wondered if he ever felt the need to protect his players from themselves, such as them wanting to throw those extra pitches or innings -- due to the playoff implications -- but he intervened for their safety.

The answer surprised me, especially given Tuesday’s events, when Stroman, Aaron Loup (7 pitches), Trevor May (13) and Edwin Diaz (13) all seemingly had more in the tank. Stretching out any one of those pitchers may have prevented rookie Jake Reed from getting the call in the pivotal 11th. Rojas said he’d never object to someone insisting to stay in.

"No, that’s not me," Rojas said. "If a guy tells me that he can go, I’ll let him go."

Those chats evidently didn’t happen Tuesday night, but it didn’t sound like Rojas asked them either. Instead, the manager played it by the book, the pitchers were satisfied with their roles, and the Mets took an L they couldn’t afford to take.

That’s fine if this were April. Or July. But the whole situation doesn’t sit right given the Mets’ dire situation. And these should not be inflexible rules come September. It just depends on hard the manager wants to force the issue or how willing the players are to stretch those limits.

As Rojas said, some can, some can’t. Others won’t, for whatever reason.

"Not only do you have to have a conversation with those players, but you’ve also got to have somebody to back you up," said Terry Collins, who managed the Mets to consecutive playoff appearances, including the World Series in 2015. "And that comes from in [the clubhouse]."

We’re not sure what help Rojas is getting on that end. The Mets no longer have a captain like David Wright in that room, as Collins was fortunate to have. But as the frustrating losses pile up, Rojas comes off as more and more isolated, the manager of a rudderless team headed for seismic changes this offseason. And a fall guy for some failings beyond his control.

New York Sports