PHILADELPHIA — Can a reliever lead the major leagues in blown saves and still be having a strong season?
Success is defined in different ways, especially for relievers, and Edwin Diaz’s numbers for the Mets are hard to denigrate. Among them, entering Wednesday, were a 1.80 ERA and the best strikeouts-per-nine innings rate in MLB at 18.9. But then there was the fact he had blown four saves in only seven attempts.
“I know out of the four blown saves we won two of the games and we lost two,” Diaz said through an interpreter before the Mets faced the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. “So what I am 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 make the playoffs down the road.”
This hardly resembles Diaz’s disastrous first season with the Mets, in which he surrendered 15 homers in 58 innings and pitched to a 5.59 ERA. Diaz returned home to Puerto Rico last offseason determined to improve, and has succeeded.
Overall, he’s been the strongest link in a bullpen that last month lost Seth Lugo to fill a void in the starting rotation. But it hasn’t helped Diaz’s cause that one of his meltdowns occurred at Yankee Stadium in the Subway Series. Since allowing that go-ahead homer to Aaron Hicks, the right-hander had made six appearances without allowing a run, entering Wednesday.
He was asked if there’s anything to the idea that pitching in ballparks absent fans this season has lessened the pressure and helped him thrive.
“I don’t think that is the case,” Diaz said. “As professional athletes we expect to have fans in the ballpark and that is the way we prepare ourselves. This offseason — I know last season didn’t go the way I wanted to — I prepared myself even harder and also with the expectation 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 am having right now because I put in a lot of work for these results.”
A turning point for Diaz may have occurred after a shaky performance against the Red Sox early in the season. Diaz, who hadn’t pitched in five days, told manager Luis Rojas he needed more frequent work. Rojas has largely stuck to a schedule of pitching Diaz every other day, until this last week. When Diaz entered Tuesday’s game he hadn’t pitched in almost a week.
But Diaz, who struck out 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 confidence level is really high. He’s matching up the stuff. We always heard his stuff was electric. There was that one game [against Boston] where he was really emotional about it when he was performing and he was not getting strike calls. There were different things happening and I thought things were going a little bit too fast for him, but I think this guy did a great job just adjusting coming back.
“There is one thing he told us, just that, ‘I want to pitch more.’ When you’re used in a closer’s role sometimes there’s a particular situation where you don’t come in four or five days in a row, which just happened to him. He told us the more we use him the better, and we challenged him, saying we were going to use him earlier, in different situations when he came in, and he showed up every time.”