Jon Heyman

Jon Heyman

MLB

Mets need to move Edwin Diaz out of closer role until he gets untracked

MIAMI — The Mets have an Edwin Diaz problem, and they have no choice but to remove the man they consistently and rightly call “one of the game’s best closers” out of his customary closer role, at least for today.

Timmy Trumpet will have to be playing for a middle reliever or mop-up guy, at least for now.

Diaz admitted two things after blowing a four-run, ninth-inning lead in the Mets’ heartbreaking 10-9, 10-inning defeat to the fire-selling Marlins that cast a pall over the clubhouse:

Edwin Diaz wallks off the mound after getting pulled in the ninth inning of the Mets' 10-9, 10-inning loss to the Marlins.
Edwin Diaz wallks off the mound after getting pulled in the ninth inning of the Mets’ 10-9, 10-inning loss to the Marlins. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con
  1. His confidence is shaken.
  2. Confidence is the main ingredient for any successful player.

Diaz was unquestionably the game’s best closer in 2022, when he earned his record $105 million contract. But after missing last season with a knee injury suffered on this very loanDepot Park mound, he’s returned with a multitude of issues that have led to a stunning succession of blown games and gut-wrenching defeats.

If the Mets hit a low point in their disappointing start — they are at a season-worst five games under .500 at 20-25 following a second straight defeat to the worst-in-MLB Marlins — Diaz couldn’t get much lower. The consummate pro was composed while conducting difficult post-game interviews, but he bowed his head and fought tears when Francisco Lindor and Sean Red-Foley kindly came over to console him.

Minutes earlier, Diaz didn’t mince words when he admitted he’s having a confidence issue, which should come as no surprise following a string of five games that included three blown saves — and this one that was so bad it didn’t even qualify as a blown save since he entered with a monster lead.

“I can’t lie,” Diaz said. “My confidence, I feel right now, is down.”

While a demotion doesn’t usually inspire confidence, the Mets have no choice but to find softer spots in games for Diaz, whose ERA is 5.50. Manager Carlos Mendoza was asked whether removing Diaz as closer was the next step, and Mendoza only said that he would need to talk to his coaches and Diaz first.

Mendoza said he considers him “our closer.” That apparently goes no matter what’s decided for now, and that’s fair.

“He’s still our closer, and he will get through it,” Mendoza asserted. “He’s too good a pitcher.”

That’s very likely true. But for now, the Mets can afford no more blowups. They need to give Diaz a respite from the rigors of baseball’s toughest job.

Back on the mound where he hurt his knee while celebrating a World Baseball Classic win for Puerto Rico, Diaz experienced the biggest pitching nightmare of a career that had some very high highs and real lows before he established himself as the game’s best two years ago. Diaz allowed a double and two singles among four batters before surrendering a bomb of a home run to straight-away center field by Josh Bell.

By now, there’s no more pretending everything will be all right, no more guessing he can still approximate the magic of 2022 that seems so far away. Ever since he got back on the Major League mound this year, he’s looked off, especially compared to the dominance of two years ago. His fastball command was an issue earlier, and so was the velocity. (He was regularly throwing 97 mph, two or three ticks from his all-world year, though he hit 99 Saturday.)

This time, it was the slider, which Mendoza suggested didn’t have the requisite bite and acted more like a cutter. Diaz said the issue was location. He wanted to get his slider down, but they were all up. And they were hit. By his own account, three of the four hits — including the fateful homer — came on sliders. All it took was five batters for the Marlins to tie the score before they won it in the 10th inning.

The Mets have a number of issues, even beyond Diaz, now. They include:

n  Francisco Lindor, the $341M man, who was moved to the leadoff spot, was the only Met who failed to register a hit and is batting .190.

n  Jeff McNeil entered the weekend in the bottom one percent of all MLB hitters in barrel percentage according to Baseball Savant (although he did gather two hits Saturday out of his new No. 8 hole.)

n  While the Mets have an upgraded offense with J.D. Martinez the DH now and Mark Vientos at least a semi regular, heading into Saturday they still ranked in the bottom half of almost every hitting category, including 25th in on-base percentage (.305), 24th in slugging percentage (.362) and 22nd in OPS (.666)

Diaz is unquestionably the issue of the day now, though. The one saving grace (no pun intended) is that the Mets have a decent bullpen, with Reed Garrett, Jorge Lopez and Adam Ottavino all pitching well. Even with Brooks Raley and Drew Smith out, and Diaz needing a breather, their overall pen situation is salvageable, assuming it isn’t too late.

The belief here, too, is that Diaz will figure it out. The man works, and he promises to “keep working.” He just can’t work out of the closer role for now.