Majority of the resources used by Sandy Alderson and company this off-season were used to overhaul a bullpen that struggled mightily last season. So far, the results have been mixed. Frank Francisco got off to a rocky start but has pitched better since his temper tantrum in Canada, as he promised. Tim Byrdak has been a revelation as the lefty specialist (assuming his arm doesn’t fall off, as he is on pace for 90 appearances!). Bobby Parnell and Jon Rauch have been solid if unspectacular in the 7th and 8th innings, but would really be better served pitching in middle relief as opposed to high leverage situations. Manny Acosta was horrible and has already been designated for assignment while Ramon Ramirez, who was not exactly reminding anyone of Mariano Rivera, tried to have as much fun as the fan in the Gary Carter jersey celebrating the Santana no hitter. This, in typical Mets fashion, will likely land him on the DL.
So, while the pen hasn’t been terrible, it certainly could use some improvement, especially with the Mets now looking like they can be in the race all summer long. Nobody knows better than Mets fans the importance of a stellar bullpen (while this past weekend was great, the Yadier Molina/Aaron Heilman flashbacks will never really go away) and unless Santana and Dickey can continue their Koufax/Drysdale impersonations (unlikely), the pen will go a long way in deciding whether the Mets stay in contention through September and beyond. While the upcoming return of Pedro Beato will certainly help, let’s take a look at a few other guys who could play a role in solidifying the back end.
Elvin Ramirez: Ramirez, who was called up when Acosta got DFA’d, made his big league debut Sunday night, getting hit (literally and figuratively) pretty hard while breaking the Mets shutout streak. This was a common theme for the 24-year old right-hander through his first four years in the minors, never posting an ERA below 3.50. Ramirez was converted to relief in 2010, but was left unprotected in the Rule V draft and selected by the Nationals. In a blessing in disguise for the Mets, Ramirez injured his shoulder and the Nationals returned him because he was unable to pitch. Healthy again in 2012, Ramirez dominated the upper minors, striking out 35 batters in 27 and 2/3 innings and now finds himself in a major league bullpen. Always blessed with great stuff, it was always a matter of commanding it for Ramirez. The light seems to have clicked as he finally knows where his triple digit fastball is going and now it is a matter of adjusting to major league hitting. Once he does that, the sky is the limit, as Ramirez could become a future closer, with the more likely scenario having him settle in as an eighth inning guy.
Jenrry Mejia: Familiar to many Mets fans, Mejia is the poster boy for the mismanagement that took place under the Minaya regime. Despite excelling as a starter, Minaya and the rest of the organization decided to give Mejia a spot in the major league bullpen to open the 2010 in a move that screamed ‘save my job!’ rather than one that was in the best long term interest of the franchise (how did that work out?) While Mejia did not pitch that bad for the Mets, he was jerked around from starting to relieving enough that he needed Tommy John surgery. Mejia has been rehabbing ever since and has now made 6 starts for the various minor league affiliates. Terry Collins has hinted that as part of his rehab, Mejia will pitch in relief for the big club, and that time is almost upon us. He certainly has the stuff to help out in relief, with the ability to go multiple innings and retire both lefties and righties, something the Mets don’t really possess at the moment. As long as he does not suffer any setbacks and the team is extra cautious with him, Mejia can be a valuable bullpen piece for the rest of the season as he continues to work his way back from major surgery.
Josh Edgin: Let’s be honest, Tim Byrdak cannot keep this pace up. As noted above, he is on pace for 90 appearances and while he has done a fantastic job, pitching that many times takes a toll on you, no matter how experienced you are. The problem is the Mets don’t really have another option to retire left handers, an issue that has existed since day 1 of spring training. Enter Josh Edgin. The 30th round pick out of Francis Marion University, Edgin has excelled since being exposed to pro ball, posting 30 saves and 149 strikeouts in 128 innings. At this point in his development, Edgin could probably pitch in the big leagues as a left handed specialist and be successful. With an eye still on the future however, the Mets want to develop him as a pitcher that can be effective against both righties and lefties. While this is probably the right decision, the way the Mets are playing is making it a more difficult decision. Either way, look for Edgin to make his debut at some point in the next few months, if not weeks.
Armando Rodriguez: Rodriguez is a guy who is flying under the radar, but a pitcher who has a very promising future nonetheless. Like many other relievers before him, Rodriguez was originally a starter before being converted to the bullpen, where he is finding much more success. This season, Rodriguez has put up stellar numbers for Binghamton, with a 29/5 strikeout to walk ratio and a 2.59 ERA in 31.1 innings covered across 17 appearances. While his fastball only reaches the low 90’s and his change-up and breaking ball are average, his go to pitch is his cutter, a pitch he can throw to open the count or use as his out pitch. Leaving last season as a starter, Rodriguez was thought to be a few years away from making his major league debut. Now that he has been converted to the bullpen, Rodriguez is on the fast track and could debut in Flushing sometime after the All-Star break, especially if he continues to pitch like he has been.