John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
A feel-good weekend at Citi Field ended with a crashing thud on Sunday, not because the Mets lost the series finale to the Nationals so much as Edwin Diaz gave up still another home run, again raising the question of how this team, even as hot as it is, can survive its own bullpen.
Mickey Callaway has already taken an important and necessary step toward a solution, making Seth Lugo at least the co-closer, using him as he did for two innings to finish out Saturday night's win.
But because the Mets are restricted in how much they can use Lugo, who has a partial tear in his elbow ligament, it's far from a perfect situation.
"It's difficult," Callaway admitted before Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Nationals, "not knowing if he's going to be available the next day. So how do we use him daily to win a game? There are a lot of surrounding factors."
Yes, it's tricky because there are times when Lugo can be used on back-to-back days, depending on his pitch count and how his arm feels, but since Callaway is never sure of that ahead of time, sometimes it makes more sense to use him for two innings, knowing he'll need at least one day of rest before pitching again.
It's a situation that could work fine if Diaz could hold up his end of the new bullpen dynamic, closing on days when Lugo is unavailable. And while Callaway has praised Diaz for accepting what amounts to a demotion with a great attitude, the manager was hoping it might also motivate him to find his old form.
"Maybe there's something deep inside that made him mad he wasn't pitching the ninth inning (Saturday) night," Callaway said before Sunday's game. "Maybe it's something that can give him more of an edge."
So much for that notion.
Suffice it to say Diaz's failures continue to be as exasperating as ever to the Mets, after he gave up two-run home run to Victor Robles in the ninth inning on Sunday, turning a 5-4 deficit into an eventual three-run loss.
Indeed the guy who posted that spectacular 1.96 ERA last season while totaling 57 saves for the Mariners last season now has a 5.60 ERA. He's given up 11 home runs in 45 innings, including four in his last six outings, so it's not as if he's on the verge of some breakthrough.
In truth, Diaz is so unreliable at the moment that Callaway really needs to put him lower-leverage situations, at least for the time being.
After Sunday's game the manager said he's not going to do that, mainly because, though he didn't come right out and say it, he doesn't feel he can trust anyone else besides Lugo to close.
"At this point, the way we're set up, we can't afford to do that," Callaway said. "So Edwin is going to have to continue to get big out for us, continue to pitch in big games. And like we did last night, we'll pick our spots."
Ok, but Diaz isn't getting big outs. So while it's true the Mets have precious few reliable late-inning arms, at this point they'd be better trying Justin Wilson as what amounts to Lugo's backup-closer.
Or, dare I say it, Jeurys Familia?
I know, I know, Familia has been more disastrous than Diaz for much of the season, but there are at least signs that he's on the way back. He struck out the side in the eighth on Sunday, giving him three straight scoreless outings, and five out of the last six, and he credits Ricky Bones, the new/old bullpen coach for finding something in his delivery.
"Ricky noticed that I was finishing short," Familia said at his locker Sunday, speaking of Bones, who was brought back as bullpen coach when Chuck Hernandez, along with pitching coach Dave Eiland, were fired in June. "Now I'm finishing longer, and my arm is reaching its (prior) release point.
"That's helped made me more comfortable and allowed me to throw strikes."
Callaway said he sees significant improvement in Familia, but apparently not to the point where he's ready to trust him completely yet. And that's understandable.
But to continue believing that Diaz is suddenly going to go back to being a lock-down closer seems like the definition of wishful thinking at this point.
It's tantalizing, no doubt, because he can still look dominant, as he did in blowing away Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon with his fastball on Sunday. But then he paid for a bad decision in throwing the slider, a pitch that hurt him all season, to Robles.
Afterward Callaway said he doesn't like to second-guess pitch selection, but he also noted that Diaz had an electric fastball on Sunday, and, "we always want to get beat with our best stuff. We talk about that a lot."
None of this wipes out the momentum the Mets have built over the last couple of weeks. But if they're going to continue climbing the standings, as they head for Atlanta this week, Callaway has to find even more of a solution to the Diaz problem that just won't go away.