PHILADELPHIA – Can a reliever lead the major leagues in blown saves and still have a strong season?
Success is defined in different ways, especially for relievers, and Edwin Diaz’s numbers for the Mets are hard to downplay. Among those who came in on Wednesday was a 1.80 ERA and the best strike per. Nine innings rate in MLB at 18.9. But then there was the fact that he only had seven attempts to blow up four saves.
“I know that out of the four blown saves, we won two of the fights and we lost two,” Diaz said through an interpreter before facing 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 eventually be able to help them get to the playoffs.”
This hardly resembles Diaz’s disastrous first season with the Mets, where he surrendered 15 homers in 58 innings and struck out a 5.59 ERA. Diaz returned home to Puerto Rico last offseason determined to improve and has succeeded.
All in all, he has been the strongest link in a bullpen that last month lost Seth Lugo to fill a void in the starting rotation. But it did not help Diaz’s case that one of his meltdowns occurred at Yankee Stadium in the Subway Series. Since allowing home worker to Aaron Hicks, the right-hander had made six appearances without allowing a run, coming in on Wednesday.
He was asked if there is anything about the idea that pitching in ballpark absent fans this season has eased the pressure and helped him thrive.
“I do not think that is the case,” Diaz said. “As professional athletes, we expect to have fans in the ballpark, and that’s the way we prepare. This offseason – I know last season did not go as I wanted – I prepared even harder and also with the expectation that there would be fans in the ballpark.
“I think if we would have had fans this year, the results would be the same as I have right now because I have put a lot of work into these results.”
A turning point for Diaz may have taken place after a shocking performance against the Red Sox early in the season. Diaz, who had not pitched in five days, told manager Luis Rojas he needed more frequent work. Rojas has pretty much stuck to a schedule of pitching Diaz every other day until this past week. When Diaz entered Tuesday’s match, he had not turned up in almost a week.
But Diaz, who struck out to the side in his inning against the Phillies, said he kept sharp by throwing his bullpens as if they were game situations.
“[Diaz] worked hard to get to this point, ”Rojas said. “His level of trust is really high. He matches things together. We’re always heard his stuff was electric. There was one game [against Boston] where he was really emotional with it when he performed and he did not get strike calls. There were different things that happened and I thought things were going a little too fast for him but I think this guy did a good job of just adjusting to coming back.
“There’s one thing he told us, ‘I want to hit more.’ When you are used in a closer role, there is sometimes a certain situation where you do not come four or five days in a row, which just happened to him. He told us that the more we use him, the better, and we challenged him and said we should use him earlier in different situations when he came in and he showed up every time. ”