Díazaster For the Mets

Edwin Díaz found himself in a small jam Saturday afternoon. Brought in to pitch the ninth against the sadder-sack Marlins while his Mets had a 4-run lead, Díaz didn't begin with a "save situation" on his hands. Struggling back and forth this year after missing all 2023 to a knee injury, Díaz turned what might have been a simple outing into a "save situation" when he surrendered a leadoff ground rule double (Vidal Bruján), got an infield pop out (Emmanuel Rivera), but then surrendered an RBI single (Jazz Chisholm, Jr.).

The deficit closing to 3 turned it into a rule-book "save situation." An infield hit (Bryan de la Cruz) set up first and third and one out, with Josh Bell coming up to bat. Díaz started Bell with a textbook slider, coming in right at the middle bottom of the strike zone. It's not a simple pitch to drive even for the best hitters. The pitch didn't hang up in the zone. But Bell somehow managed to drive it several feet past the center field fence.

For Díaz it didn't mean a "blown save," since he came into the game with no "save situation" at the outset. But it still tied the game at nine each. Mets manager Carlos Mendoza got Díaz out of there in favour of Jake Diekman, who struck the next two Miami hitters out swinging to send the game to the extra innings where the Mets lost on a one-out walkoff RBI single.

Why Díaz was even brought into the game at all with the Mets ahead 4 is a good question. So let's try to answer. Mendoza had already used his best relief pitcher on the season, Reid Garrett, in the seventh — after the Fish turned a 7-2 deficit into a 7-4 one as Mets starter Luis Severino faltered. Garrett surrendered back-to-back singles to make it 7-5, Mets, before getting a fly out to end the inning.

Mendoza sent Adam Ottavino, arguably his third best reliever on the year so far, out to pitch the eighth. Ottavino gave the Mets a spotless, three-up, three-down inning. Since he'd already spent Garrett and Ottavino, Mendoza had an option to use his arguable second-best reliever on the year, Sean Reid-Foley, even though Foley hadn't pitched in a game in five days.

But Diaz himself had pitched on five days' rest against the Braves on 12 May and worked a spotless ninth — with the Mets down a run. It lined him up for a win credit considering Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo tore a walkoff 2-run homer out of Braves reliever A.J. Minter in the bottom of the ninth. If Mendoza was leery about using Reid-Foley on five days rest, he shouldn't have been.

Garrett's 0.78 ERA is the best in the Mets' bullpen, and he has a terrific 2.06 fielding-independent pitching rate (FIP), as well. Ottavino has a 2.95 ERA, but a 2.71 FIP. Reid-Foley is sandwiched between those two with his 2.49 FIP and 1.59 ERA.

Mendoza wasn't exactly managing to a stat on Saturday, but he was managing to a predetermined role, the game situation and the actual performance papers to date be damned. ("But ... a 4-run lead!" you might rejoin.) You get the manager wanting to get Díaz back in the saddle more fully after last year's injury absence and this year's earlier ups and downs for his Established Closer. But Díaz had a 13.50 ERA over his two outings previous to Saturday's disaster.

Something is seriously wrong with Díaz. The pitcher himself owned his Saturday disaster postgame and said this:

"I won't lie, my confidence I feel is down right now. I'm making pitches. I'm throwing strikes. I'm trying to do my best to help the team to win. Right now I'm not in that capacity. Physically, I feel 100 percent right now. My body is not an issue. I think right now I've got to think about what I'm doing, trust myself a little bit more when I'm on the mound. I think I'm thinking too much."

Díaz wasn't wrong about throwing strikes. He threw a beauty to Bell. You credit Bell for getting hold of it at all, never mind driving it the way he did. Díaz may be lacking in confidence of late, but someone should tell him he'd thrown Bell one of the best pitches he could possibly throw and it wasn't his fault Bell found a button and detonated it. More than sometimes, a good pitch, even a perfect pitch, gets destroyed.

Mendoza has since said Díaz and the Mets are open to changing his role for a spell. Díaz himself said he, too, is open to the idea to get himself back on track. "It's one of those things I have to talk to the coaching staff and to Edwin," the manager told reporters, "whether we want to find him some softer spots to get him going. He's still our closer and he will get through it."

Maybe the manager should have stopped at "softer spots to get him going" and ignored the "role." Just say you're going to get Díaz back by way of working him in lower-leverage situations regardless of the inning. Just add that you've got three bullpen options who, right now, are the better options for the higher-leverage.

Because guess what. The real "save situation" isn't the exclusive property of the ninth inning. Neither is the highest leverage. But Díaz has an opposition .513 slugging percentage against him in high leverage this year, while Reid-Foley has a .000 slugging percentage against him in high leverage. Reid-Foley is prone to the walk in high leverage, but he has a 2.08 ERA working the seventh through the ninth.

In light of Díaz's struggles, Mendoza probably would have been safer handing Reid-Foley a 4-run lead to protect. Keeping Diekman in the game might have been an option if not for the protracted top of the ninth.

Severino more or less cruised through the first six before running out of fuel and surrendering two runs in the seventh. Those two runs turned the Met lead into a 3-run lead. Garrett faltered it into a 2-run lead. Ottavino's inning was the arguable "save situation," since he was assigned to keep that 2-run lead intact. Then the Mets restored the lead to 4 with a pair of RBI doubles in the top of the ninth, while sending eight men to the plate.

A quick ninth might have allowed Mendoza to keep Diekman in the game with Reid-Foley on standby. Absent that option, he sent his lately-shaky Established Closer out to work the inning instead of the better Reid-Foley option. It helped cost Mendoza a game he should have won and chip a few more flakes away from the struggling Díaz's confidence.

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