What began as a beautiful Memorial Day afternoon Monday at Citi Field, with rookie pitcher Jacob deGrom giving the Mets a lift on the mound and at the plate, quickly degenerated into a mess that led to an organizational shake-up by general manager Sandy Alderson.
Jose Valverde received his outright release after blowing the save in a 5-3 loss to the Pirates, and the Mets' continuing struggles at the plate prompted Alderson to fire batting coach Dave Hudgens, a move he said had been brewing for some time.
Alderson said Lamar Johnson, who has worked for the Mets since 2005 and is the minor-league hitting instructor, will replace Hudgens on Tuesday. The Mets recalled reliever Vic Black from Triple-A Las Vegas to take Valverde's spot in the bullpen.
Although he lavished praise on Hudgens for his work ethic, Alderson said some of the Mets' problem areas at the plate have not improved since Hudgens took over as the batting coach in 2011. "We've had issues home and road over the last several years, not just this season," Alderson said. "Our situational hitting is not where we want it to be."
Alderson, who set a goal of 90 wins in spring training, hoped to see a significant improvement at the plate on the current nine-game homestand. But the Mets have hit .197 with runners in scoring position (13-for-66) while losing five of the first seven.
The ineptitude in Sunday's doubleheader split with Arizona and again Monday pushed Alderson to his limit. In those games, the Mets were 6-for-34 with runners in scoring position, left 29 men on base and hit into seven double plays.
Asked if this move is a warning shot for manager Terry Collins to turn around a last-place team with a 22-28 record, Alderson said, "No, this is in response to a specific situation, and nothing else should be read into it by any means."
Multiple sources within the organization told Newsday that Collins is not in immediate danger, but there's an expiration date that might cause patience to wear thin. Collins bristled when asked if he might be next.
"Well, everybody could be next," he said. "When you're evaluated, you know where it starts? In the mirror. You know what kind of job you do; you know how you go about your job, and at the end of the day, if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Don't think for one second there's not a guy in there that [doesn't] realize this is part of it.
"We just released one of the best professionals I've ever been around in my life in Jose Valverde. [Expletive] happens. You deal with it, and if you can't, you don't belong in the game."
DeGrom battled through 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and five walks and striking out four while throwing 122 pitches. He also was 2-for-2 at the plate and scored the Mets' first run.
Jeurys Familia struck out Andrew McCutchen looking to end the seventh. But Scott Rice gave up a leadoff homer to pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez in the eighth, and with two outs, Collins asked Valverde for a four-out save. He immediately gave up a double by Starling Marte and an RBI single by pinch hitter Jose Tabata that tied it at 2.
Valverde got only one out in the ninth and was charged with three more runs.
The bullpen was shorthanded without closer Jenrry Mejia, who pitched in both games of Sunday's doubleheader, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who started and won the nightcap.
In the end, the bullpen breakdown and lack of timely hitting led to two firings. "We're all aware that things like that happen," Collins said of Hudgens' ouster. "It's not from lack of work; it's not from lack of preparation. Sometimes you make change for change. You try to shake things up. This is by no means Dave Hudgens' fault."
With Marc Carig