What Happened, In a Moment:
Terry Collins treated Fernando Salas as his lockdown Eighth Inning GuyTM instead of a reliever running on fumes. Salas surrendered back-to-back homers to give Miami a 5-4 win.
It seems odd to say a pitcher needs to go deep because the bullpen is over-taxed in the second week of the season. But here come the Mets, who had already asked relievers to throw 23.2 innings in the first five games of their road trip. Mets fans were probably thinking “We better get a ton of innings from Jacob deGrom tonight!” like most Americans are thinking “I better get a tax refund this year!”
deGrom stepped up with a career high 13 strikeouts over seven innings. It looked like the Mets might be in for another bullpen game after back-to-back homers by Justin Bour and Marcell Ozuna, the second of which went over the stands in left, but deGrom didn’t hang another slider. In fact, the Marlins swung at 11 deGrom sliders and only made contact twice! deGrom also got 11 whiffs on 25 swings against his fastball. Miami’s offense was all-or-nothing Saturday night, and against deGrom that usually meant nothing.
Mets Eventually Get to Conley:
A week ago, the Mets were fooled by Adam Conley and his low 90s fastball. Last night, you’d figure the advantage would turn to the Mets. Could a fifth starter who relies so much on deception fool the same hitters in consecutive starts? The Mets got one run in the first on a series of hard hit balls. Then Conley took over with his 90.2 mph fastball, retiring 15 straight Mets in a flurry of weak contact. Yoenis Cespedes stared at his bat after flying out in the sixth, as if there was no way his could produce so much weaker contact than expected without breaking his bat.
Neil Walker broke up the streak by bunting against the shift for a leadoff single in the seventh. Curtis Granderson tripled to the deep power alley in right-center to tie the game at two. All of a sudden, Conley was pulled at 81 pitches for righty Dustin McGowan. Collins put in Michael Conforto to pinch hit, which may have been Collins’ best decision of the night as Conforto just missed a home run. His sacrifice fly, however, gave the Mets a 3-2 lead. Asdrubal Cabrera homered to the upper deck in the eighth to provide the Mets a little insurance.
Terry’s Big Blunder:
Jacob deGrom was still rolling after seven innings and had yet to hit 100 pitches. The Mets don’t have a clear top setup guy right now, because he’s currently closing games while Jeurys Familia is suspended. This means Terry Collins has a lot of choices for how to mix and match, but maybe no clear optimal choice. Let’s review:
1. Leave deGrom in for another 2-3 batters. Every additional out the bullpen doesn’t need to get is like getting a bigger refund.
2. Go to Jerry Blevins. Three of the first four scheduled hitters were left-handed, and Blevins has improved against righties recently.
3. Use deGrom, then go to Blevins as a specialist if Christian Yelich gets to bat (scheduled fourth).
4. Use Salas for the eighth time in 12 games, because it’s the eighth inning and Collins has a lead.
Terry Collins chose door number four. Salas’ advantage is his relatively even platoon splits. It’s nice to have on a staff, particularly in the late innings when you just want to hand the inning to a high leverage pitcher. However, the Mets hadn’t used anyone in the bullpen yet. Creative mixing and matching was a lot more promising than giving the ball to Salas because that’s his role. Just going to Salas is like just filing your taxes without trying to get every deduction possible!
To throw some gasoline on this fire, Salas has thrown more innings out of the bullpen than any other Met so far this year. He managed to get Ichiro Suzuki and Dee Gordon, then threw a four pitch walk to Mel Rojas. Salas was obviously tired, but Collins left him in to face Yelich. One belt high fastball later it was a tie ballgame.
Blevins wasn’t an option to face Yelich, Collins insisted after the game. “He’s pitched like five out of six [games], so we tried to avoid that.” Salas’ eight appearances in 12 games was apparently of no concern.
Giancarlo Stanton followed up with a homer to center, giving the Marlins a 5-4 lead. Once the situation no longer called for an Eighth Inning GuyTM, Collins finally turned to Blevins for the last out.
Juan Lagares got his first start of the year against the lefty Conley. Conforto pinch hit for him in a tie game, then stayed in center. File it away that Collins is willing to pinch hit for Lagares and trade his defense for more offense late in games.
I’m going to keep moving this up and up every time Collins throws an overworked reliever back out for more work.
Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day:
On Saturday, every major league player wore the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Granderson even wore special cleats that he will auction off for charity. Jackie Robinson Day has always been special to me as someone who went to the same school. It’s a testament to the importance of giving people opportunities and Robinson’s courage to take full advantage of those opportunities. Robinson was the first athlete to play four sports at UCLA, but baseball was by far his worst sport. He was an all conference basketball player and to this day holds Bruins records for rushing.
A big part of why Robinson chose baseball after leaving the military was because baseball had the Negro Leagues. Starring for the Kansas City Monarchs attracted the attention of major league scouts. Today, an athlete like Robinson, who only hit .097 in college, would probably be funneled in to a different sport. But back in the 1940s, Robinson pursued the sport he was worst at, because it was the only way he could earn a living as an athlete.
In 2017, Major League Baseball is relatively bad at giving opportunities to players from less affluent backgrounds born in the United States. Youth baseball increasingly relies on expensive travel leagues for top prospects. Andrew McCutchen wrote he was initially planning on playing football, because football has more complete college scholarships. MLB has made some efforts to get more black players in the youth pipeline, but Ken Rosenthal reported that the NCAA refuses to sign off on pro baseball sponsoring additional scholarships to “amateur” athletes. It would be great to see the Mets honor Jackie Robinson’s legacy with more money to support kids in New York who want to play baseball, not just with a rotunda in Citi Field.
Photo credit: Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports