Coming off a 2018 in which Edwin Díaz notched 57 saves for the Mariners, the second most saves in one season of all-time, the Mets looked to be shoring up a bullpen to complement their excellent young rotation, trading for the blue-chip reviler in the offseaosn. Since then, their bullpen woes have worsened, and in this shortened 60-game season, the relief corps may very well sink New York.
Thursday night’s calamity of a ninth inning was just one of the several disastrous outings for Mets relievers in a season that’s barely a week old.
Trailing Boston 3-2, Díaz came into the ninth and promptly walked Alex Verdugo, gave up a single to Michael Chavis, walked Anderw Benintendi, and finally got an out, fanning Rafael Devers with the bases loaded. He then got into a lengthy at bat with Jose Peraza, who fouled off fastball-after-fastball, before Díaz finally deployed his sinker...which hit Pereza and forced in a run. Mets’ skipper Luis Rojas pulled Díaz at that point, but the damage had already been done.
After totaling 34 pitches in all his previous outings combined, Díaz threw 35 pitches Thursday night, landing just 19 of them in the strike zone, and generating only three whiffs. He loaded the bases, hit a guy to bring a run in, and only got one out. While it’s not technically a blown-save, since the Mets trailed by one entering the inning, throwing that disaster of an appearance on top of an outing last week in which Díaz coughed up the lead to the Braves via a Marcell Ozuna, two-out top-of-the-ninth homer, it’s bad news for a Mets team that has a roster that otherwise looks quite competitive in the NL East.
Díaz’ trials and tribulations have been a problem since he joined the Mes. Last season in 58 innings he allowed 36 runs via 58 hits, and 12 walks. He also gave up an astonishingly high 15 home runs. He ended up losing the closer job, finishing the year with a career-worst 5.59 ERA, 4.71 FIP and seven blown saves. 2020 is looking to be much of the same story.
It’s no accident that Díaz avoided his slider until the very last pitch of the lengthy Peraza at bat. Last year hitters teed off on that pitch, hitting .297, slugging .662, and crushing six home runs off the offering. It’s part of the myriad of problems that’s preventing Díaz from reaching his dominant stature in his Mariners’ days.
If the Mets feel compelled to continue to use Díaz (which they absolutely shouldn’t but may due to his expensive contract), they need to get him into games at a time when the leverage index and potential for catastrophe is low, or they have plenty of time to undue whatever damage Diaz has done.
There are two options here. The Mets can continue to use Díaz as a reliever, but avoid him in close late-inning situations. Until he can string together multiple clean outings, where he limits hard contact and generates swings-and-misses at his previous rate, bringing him into the game in late innings will continue to present a major risk in a season that only has about 50 games left.
Another more creative option would be to use Díaz as an ‘opener’ and see how he does. In this scenario, if he struggled they’d have someone else ready to sweep-in and rescue the inning, and even if things go sour quickly, New York’s offense will have eight or nine innings to make up for it. I doubt this situation comes to fruition, but I’d love to see it happen.
The reality is that Díaz isn’t even the only problem in the Mets’ bullpen. Just one day before Díaz’ second meltdown of the season, Seth Lugo coughed up a one-run lead to the Mets in the seventh inning, allowing a game-tying Chrisian Vazquez home run, en route to a 6-5 loss.
It gets worse from there. Justin Wilson has already given up three runs in three innings this season, which is still better than Hunter Strickland’s three runs given up in just 2 ⅓ innings.
In a shortened-season, it’s ‘getting late early out there’, and the Mets need to address their bullpen problem soon in order to position themselves for a decent stretch where they are confident they can close-out wins, and take advantage of a good offense and strong starting pitching. In a season where most teams will be in it due to the expanded playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see what New York’s options are as we rapidly approach the August 31st trade deadline.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano