In his first game of his second season, Mets manager Mickey Callaway had his team on autopilot through the first six innings. However, from that point on, Callaway had three important decisions to make, all of which worked out, though one could have come back to bite him...
Lugo for deGrom
In relief of Jacob deGrom, who tossed six beautiful innings, Callaway brought in reliever Seth Lugo, who tossed a perfect seventh inning by striking out the side. However, despite throwing just 15 pitches, Lugo was pulled in favor Jeurys Familia, who, in standard Familia fashion, allowed the tying run to get to the plate.
At the rate he was going, deGrom certainly could have thrown one more inning -- meaning Lugo could have entered in the eighth inning followed by Edwin Diaz in the ninth. In this case, though, I agree with Callaway, who opted to pull deGrom after 95 pitches.
Remember, it's Opening Day and deGrom will hopefully make another 30 or so starts. There's no point in risking fatigue and a potential arm injury knowing he's desperately needed for another 200+ innings between now and November. Not to mention, Lugo said he'd been warming up in the bullpen since midway through the fifth inning. And, counter to what we saw during the Terry Collins era, when a pitcher gets up that early and prepares to be in the game, Callaway gets him in the game, which is the right thing to do for the player...
"It's a good feeling out there, there's a lot of chemistry," said Lugo, who noted he simply did what was discussed between him and deGrom the day before when prepping to face the Nationals.
It cannot be said enough just how valuable Lugo will be to the success of this team. I had been saying years ago that he would be most successful in his career if used much like the Indians used Andrew Miller in 2016. It seems Callaway is finally putting Lugo in that role, at least based on how he was used Thursday.
It's because of this reason that Callaway may have wanted to use Lugo one additional inning instead of going to Familia. That said, I'm glad Callaway did what he did because it gets Lugo and Familia both out on a high note with both leaving the ballpark feeling like important cogs to this year's bullpen.
It's easy for us to get wrapped up in seeing every game as a must-win postseason battle. The reality, though, of being the manager is to sustain the mental and physical strength of his players over the course of the entire season. One way to do that is to limit workloads early in the year, while also keeping them feeling a sense of success. Callaway wisely did both with his pitching staff.
Smith for Alonso
Similarly, Callaway pulled Pete Alonso in the eighth inning after the rookie first baseman picked up the first hit of his major-league career. In his place, up just 1-0 with a runner on second, two outs and Robinson Cano stepping to the plate, Callaway pinch-ran the speedy Keon Broxton.
In front of Broxton, standing on second base, was Dominic Smith, who entered the game a few batters earlier when Callaway subbed him in for Lugo.
Cano singled with a line drive to left field, which allowed Smith (running on contact with two outs) to score from second base and give the Mets a two-run lead.
In the bottom of that inning, Smith replaced Alonso at first base, which makes total sense. Removing Alonso on a high note, just like removing deGrom, Lugo and Familia when he did, gets Alonso a good feeling leaving the ballpark for the day. It also got Smith into the game on Opening Day, which likely gave him a feeling of being important to the team as opposed to just an idle bench player. Smith also got his first at-bat of the season, which should help keep up his timing at the plate. Lastly, he's a superior defensive first baseman compared to Alonso, which is all the more important late during a 2-0 game.
The point is, I like this swap...
Broxton for Conforto
On the other hand, when pinch-running Broxton, Callaway switched him in for Conforto, which is a risk not worth taking in a game that very easily could have gone into extra innings.
It worked out, thankfully. On the bases earlier in the inning, Broxton's speed was minimized anyway with the slow-footed Smith in front of him, and all at the expense of missing Conforto's power in a possible tie game later in the day.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!