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SportsColumnistsLaura Albanese

Give Mets closer Edwin Diaz a chance to turn things around

Edwin Diaz of the Mets reacts after surrendering

Edwin Diaz of the Mets reacts after surrendering the go-ahead run against the Pirates in the ninth inning at Citi Field on July 11. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It’s no secret we’ve become accustomed to novelty. We’re always looking for the newest and the best, for optimization and excellence. And when something — or sometimes someone — stops serving a specific purpose, even for a moment, we tend to look toward the horizon for something better.

It’s certainly true in New York and probably more so when it comes to the bubbling cauldron that is New York sports. Guy’s in a long slump? Dump him, he was never any good anyway. Pitcher on the fritz? Trade him (and boo him, too).

Edwin Diaz knows all this. He lived it before and he’s living it again. When he was traded to the Mets before to the 2019 season, fans expected the shutdown closer who led the AL in saves the previous season. What they got was a man who struggled with his mechanics, struggled with the bright lights of a new city, and who pitched to what seemed like an unfathomable 5.59 ERA.

Fans were rightfully disappointed, and they loudly worried that the Mets had gotten a dud. And though he was far better the next two years, now that his struggles have resurfaced, so too have the calls to sit him for someone else (who, exactly, no one seems to quite agree on).

But there was value to patience then, and there’s value to patience now, even as Diaz has three blown saves in his last three tries. This is not the pitcher we saw in 2019, though elements of that have been sneaking into his outings, and there’s actually reason to believe he can rally from this latest series of misfortunes.

See, for as much as pitching is an art, it’s still very much a science. And Diaz has apparently pinpointed what’s been going wrong. It hasn’t been a one-man job, either — pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and assistant Ricky Meinhold have been on it — and all together, they’ve seen the glitch in mechanics that’s causing Diaz’s slider to back up, and his fastball to sail. That’s all key, because when Diaz isn’t locating his pitches, he’s not getting the chases he needs to dominate.

"It’s something he can do," Luis Rojas said. "He’s got the experience right now. He’s got the feel for it . . . He told me he’s working hard and things like this are making him a better pitcher."

This is pretty pivotal, because the narrative around Diaz has sometimes been that he can’t quite handle it when things go poorly. Historically, he’s struggled when being used in non-save situations, and it certainly seems like he can get into his own head.

But Rojas doesn’t believe that’s completely what’s happening here. And because of that, because it’s a mechanical fix that involves mundane things like repetition, and watching reams of video, and continuing to puzzle it out until he gets it right, it also seems far easier to solve. As Rojas witnessed in 2019 with his closer, it’s the mental stuff that can really throw you off balance.

"I think the experience in 2019 made him a better pitcher — he learned a lot from it," Rojas said. "I think right now he’s better at facing struggle, adversity, failure, if you want to call it that. He’s better at that because he just sees the opportunity and he just goes and works on things and isn’t getting mental about it. I thought he did get mental in ‘19 a little bit, and in 2020 when we started pitching him a little bit earlier than the ninth inning . . . This guy is mature physically and mentally and that’s why I think he’s going to face it the right way."

None of this to say Diaz is going to wake up today or tomorrow with his mechanics in perfect sync, the yips completely gone. But it should absolutely afford him another chance to get right. When he’s on, he is by far the Mets' best option in the ninth inning — they simply stand a better chance when he’s not just relegated to the scrap heap of disappointing pitchers.

"Three games doesn’t mean a lot," Diaz said in Cincinnati, seemingly in good spirits. "They trust in me 100%. I was talking to Hefner and he told me that: ‘We trust you, you’re our guy over there.’ I’m calm. I’ve got to do my job, but I’m really good right now."

So, let’s give him a chance, shall we? Not forever. Maybe not even for long, but for now. After all, sometimes there’s value to working on things rather than just discarding them for the next, newest option.

New York Sports