After everything that has gone right for the Mets, during a rapturous climb back into contention that has bordered on supernatural, there remains one key piece missing.
Imagine if they somehow fix Edwin Diaz?
We forget because this Flushing joyride has proceeded mostly without him, as Mickey Callaway stripped Diaz of his closer title, for all practical purposes, earlier this month. Regardless, the Mets have in their possession a shutdown reliever that racked up 57 saves a year ago, along with another 25 (in 30 chances) this season.
Yet Diaz has been a lost soul, floating in bullpen limbo, as the sage pitching coach Phil Regan works with him daily and Mickey Callaway cherry-picks the lower-leverage spots that may best facilitate his recovery.
It’s already been a long, frustrating road for everyone involved. Entering Thursday night’s series finale against the Indians, Diaz had a 5.32 ERA -- last season it was 1.96 -- and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.05 (compared to 7.29 a year ago). Since his first blown save on May 25, Diaz has allowed eight homers in 27 2/3 innings, with teams raking him for a .990 OPS.
But Diaz still throws 98 mph and has a wicked (if inconsistent) slider in his arsenal. If the rotation can flourish under Regan’s fresh tutelage, as well as the reheated bullpen duo of Justin Wilson and Jeurys Familia, then why not Diaz?
“This guy has saved 80 games in a year and a half,” Regan said before Thursday’s game. “A lot of guys don’t save 80 games in their life. It’s there. And we’ve just got to get it out of him.”
Toward the end of Thursday’s twice-delayed, 2-0 victory over the Indians (shortened by rain to eight innings) Diaz was warming for a potential save opportunity as Paul Sewald pitched a perfect eighth. Alas, the monsoon washed away his chance to try out a few of the mechanical tweaks developed with Regan.
“I was ready,” Diaz said afterward. “I want to keep pitching better and help the team win. That’s the most important thing.”
You could argue that Diaz nearly sabotaged this season on his own during the first half, but if they can get him right, he could be a game-changer down the stretch, as well as into October.
Regan knows this. It’s why both him and bullpen coach Ricky Bones have made Diaz a special project over the past two weeks, a nearly daily regimen that sometimes involves them carpooling to the ballpark together. During last week’s trip to Atlanta, they all hung out with Diaz’s visiting parents.
As for the Diaz reboot itself, Regan’s target has been correcting his errant slider, and they’ve focused on having his front foot step forward to the right side of the mound rather than straight ahead. The objective is supposed to give him more of a cross-body delivery and potentially create more tilt on the slider.
“We’re trying these things,” Regan said. “Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t.”
On the surface, the change may appear relatively slight. But for a pitcher, any modification is significant, so Regan was pleased that Diaz already felt comfortable throwing with the adjustment before Thursday’s game. The plan was for Diaz to try it later that night.
“I feel great” Diaz said. “And I think my slider is getting better. If I get the slider back, everything will be fine.”
Diaz needs to earn Callaway’s trust back, but does he have the time to do it with fewer chances left to restore that faith? As for his usage going forward, the manager remains murky on providing any semblance of a blueprint.
“We’re trying to get him out there as often as we possibly can in the right spots to get himself going,” Callaway said. “And it seems like he’s trending in that direction. I loved his slider the last time out. Hard work is going to pay off on this one.”
It has for Diaz’s bullpen-mates. Wilson has a 1.06 ERA in 21 games since returning from the injured list on July 2. Familia has labored through a terrible season, but he entered Thursday with a 1.80 ERA and 11.70 K/9 over his 10 appearances this month (10.0 innings). The Mets are determined to make it happen for Diaz, who has stayed upbeat throughout his struggles.
“He wants it so bad,” Regan said. “September is going to be a big month for us, and I would really like to have him and Familia at the top of their game for that month. That’s my goal. I think we can do that.”