Over the first month and a half of the 2014 season, it looked like the long nightmare that has been the New York Mets‘ bullpen would continue for another year. However, as the calendar flips to June, the bullpen is starting to make believers out of understandably skeptical and dubious fans.
It’s no coincidence that the pen’s mini-resurgence occurred almost directly after the release of Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde, two veterans who were non-roster invitees but saw major innings early on and overstayed their welcomes. The uptick also coincided with the Mets moving Jenrry Mejia from his fifth starter spot in the team’s rotation to the bullpen, where he eventually took over the closer’s role. Since the Mets inserted Mejia into the bullpen, he has not allowed a run in 10.1 innings, is striking out over 10 batters per nine innings and has five saves in the nine games he’s pitched.
The Mets have also gotten yeoman’s work out of another young right-hander, Jeurys Familia. Familia struggled a bit with his control to start the season, but since the beginning of May, he’s posted a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings while nearly cutting his walk rate in half. He has assumed a high-leverage role as a late-inning reliever for the team, and manager Terry Collins indicated that Familia could see some save opportunities on days when Mejia isn’t available.
Not to be overlooked in this youth movement are two veterans who nobody saw being arguably New York’s two best relievers this season, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Carlos Torres. Matsuzaka joined the bullpen in mid-April, having only made one relief appearance in his career, and has surprised everyone by compiling a 2.14 ERA as a reliever (with an emergency start where he allowed two runs on three hits in six innings mixed in). Torres, a journeyman who pitched well for the team last season, has replicated his performance by posting a 2.76 ERA, second behind Matsuzaka among Mets relievers who have pitched more than 11 innings.
The team has also recently mixed in Vic Black and Josh Edgin, two pitchers expected to make the team out of spring training who were sent down to triple-A Las Vegas with control problems. Although both have pitched entirely too small a sample size to draw any concrete conclusions, they both look much better than they did earlier on this spring.
Of course, the team is still employing lefty specialist Scott Rice, who has proven that he not only walks too many lefties, but also that he cannot be trusted at all to face a right-handed hitter. Righties are hitting over .440 against Rice this season and, as a result of his inability to face anyone other than lefties, Rice has caused Collins to frequently burn out relievers by bringing in multiple ones per inning.
When Gonzalez Germen returns from a troublesome abscess that’s lasted far longer than anyone originally expected, Rice could be on the outside looking in, especially with Edgin ready to assume the role of facing tough lefties. Germen was pitching well before he went down and should only add another promising young arm to the Mets’ stable. Furthermore, once Dillon Gee returns to the rotation, New York will be faced with the decision of moving either Jacob de Grom or Rafael Montero, two young pitchers who have performed admirably during their time in the rotation, into the bullpen. Needless to say, this is a much better problem for the Mets to have than deciding which washed up non-roster invitee they can plug in to eat a few innings.
While Mets fans are not used to feeling this way, maybe, just maybe, they can finally exhale when Collins goes out to the mound and signals for the bullpen.