Things we never thought we’d say in April: “This bullpen ain’t too bad.”
When the season dawned, the Mets and their fans weren’t sure exactly how the late innings of any given game would be handled. Oh, sure, Bobby Parnell — with his electric fastball — was going to be the closer, of course. The team then decided that the best course of action would be to go the “veteran route.” Long-timers John Lannan, Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth were to be counted on to provide that sturdy bridge from the middle innings to the ninth. They also had talented middle relievers Carlos Torres and Gonzalez Germen for long relief/spot-starting duties. Scott Rice would be manager Terry Collins’ favorite LOOGY and Jeurys Familia would give those vets a break when those late innings began to pile up. It looked like a solid plan on paper. In practice? Well…
It turned out that Parnell threw 25 pitches on opening day before he hurt himself for the year. His immediate replacement – Valverde – walked a tightrope every time he took the mound. Unable to stomach anymore, Collins replaced him with Farnsworth…which also didn’t work. Lannan, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to keep the ball in any park, including Citi Field and Rice wasn’t nearly as effective as he had been in 2013. The bullpen quickly became the favorite whipping-boy for the MSM and the fans decrying late loss after late loss – until everyone noticed the team’s lack of clutch hitting, that is. Where were Collins and Co. to go to find relief from all this horrid…uh…relief? As it turns out, they needed to look no further than right in front of them.
While the bullpen follies were being played out in Queens on a nightly basis until half-way through May, Jenrry Mejia was a struggling starter in the Bigs, Josh Edgin and Vic Black were toiling in the Las Vegas desert and Familia was languishing, unused by Collins for as long as a week at a time. With uncharacteristic swiftness, though, GM Sandy Alderson took a scythe to this weed patch in the ‘pen. Lannan and Rice each accepted an assignment back to the minors, while Valverde and Farnsworth were released, cast out into the MLB ether, available for anyone to pick (Eventually, Farnsworth signed with – and was cut by — the Astros, while Valverde remains at large). In their stead, Mejia took over as closer, Familia as the primary set-up man, Black as the set-up to the set-up man and Edgin as the LOOGY. Torres and Germen remained in their long-relief roles, but somehow proved a lot more effective once the top-heavy bullpen regained its balance. Suffice to say, the ‘pen has gone from a joke on May 15 to one of this team’ strengths as of this writing. Mejia has posted eight saves and has even taken on appearing in the eighth inning whenever Collins deems it necessary. Familia has become rock-solid reliable now that he’s not sitting around waiting for his turn to come. The heart no longer leaps to the throat when Collins or Dan Warthen waggles a finger to summon a new pitcher.
We just wish they had some more runs to work with.
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