PHILADELPHIA – Can a reliever lead the major leagues with jump saves and continue to have a strong season?
Success is defined in different ways, especially for rescuers, and Edwin Diaz’s numbers for the Mets are hard to denigrate. Among them, entering Wednesday, were 1.80 ERA and the best strikeout rate for nine innings in MLB at 18.9. But then there was the fact that he had missed four saves in just seven attempts.
“I know that out of four saves we have won two games and lost two,” Diaz said through an interpreter before the Mets faced the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. “So what I’m trying to do is help the team stay in the game, so they can win that game and then ultimately be able to help them make the playoffs along the way.”
This barely resembles Diaz’s disastrous first season with the Mets, in which he conceded 15 homers in 58 innings and pitched at 5.59 ERA. Diaz returned home to Puerto Rico the last offseason determined to improve, and he succeeded.
Overall, he was the strongest link in a bullpen that Seth Lugo lost last month to fill a gap in the initial rotation. But it didn’t help Diaz’s cause that one of his collapses occurred at Yankee Stadium in the Subway series. Since giving Aaron Hicks the go-ahead, the right had made six appearances without conceding a run, entering on Wednesday.
He was asked if there is anything about the idea that throwing on baseball fields in the absence of fans this season has lessened the pressure and helped him grow.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Diaz said. “As professional athletes we expect to have fans in the baseball field and this is how we prepare. This offseason – I know last season didn’t go the way I wanted – I prepared even harder and also with the expectation that there would be fans on the baseball field.
“I think if we had had fans this year the results would have been the same as I am having now because I have worked hard for these results.”
A turning point for Diaz may have come after a shaky performance against the Red Sox earlier in the season. Diaz, who hadn’t pitched for five days, told coach Luis Rojas he needed more frequent work. Rojas has largely stuck to a schedule of launching Diaz every other day, until this past week. When Diaz entered the game on Tuesday he hadn’t pitched in nearly a week.
But Diaz, who beat the side in his inning against the Phillies, said he held out by throwing his bullpens as if they were game situations.
“[Diaz] he worked hard to get to this point, “Rojas said.” His confidence level is really high. He’s matching things up. We always felt his stuff was electric. There was that one game [against Boston] where he was really excited when he performed and received no strike calls. Different things were happening and I thought things were going a little too fast for him, but I think this guy did a great job of adjusting.
“There is one thing he told us, just, ‘I want to throw more.’ When you are used in the role of the beholder there is sometimes a particular situation where you don’t arrive in four or five days in a row, which just happened to him. He told us that the more we use it the better, and we have it. challenged, saying we would use it before, in different situations when it came in, and it showed up every time. “