Regardless of whether or not Mets fans are ready, Edwin Diaz is only further bolstering his place as the club’s closer heading into the 2021 season.
The 26-year-old right-hander has been lights out in spring training, not allowing a single run or hit over three appearances (three innings) with five strikeouts as he continues to put his nightmare 2019 debut with the Mets firmly in the rearview mirror.
His struggles from two seasons ago have already been well-documented: Seven blown saves, 15 home runs allowed in 58 innings of work, and a career-worst 5.59 ERA just one season after being labeled as one of the best closers in baseball with the Seattle Mariners — posting a league-best 57 saves with a minuscule 1.96 ERA.
The fact that the Mets traded one of their top prospects in center fielder Jarred Kelenic and that his inability to effectively close out games cost New York a wild-card berth in 2019 only exacerbated the ire that was sent in Diaz’s direction.
But the long-ball seemed to be an anomaly as he still had electric stuff, posting a career-high 15.4 strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark.
So Diaz went to work in each of the last two offseasons to try and rectify the issues that brought about such a prominent fall from grace.
“It wasn’t an overhaul in mechanics,” Diaz said back in February. “It was just small adjustments that I made that I was doing in 2017 and 2018 that I wasn’t doing in 2019… Last offseason I was able to look at some video and make certain adjustments to attack the strike zone.”
Citing the ability to stay behind the ball longer, which allows him to release it in front of him, Diaz was able to get more late life on his fastball and slider — making those pitches all the more daunting to face.
The returns were positive, especially in the second half of the shortened 2020 season. Over his final 11 appearances (11.2 innings) Diaz allowed just a single run (0.77 ERA) with five hits and 20 strikeouts. He also picked up four of his six saves of the season.
“It was great for confidence,” Diaz said. “I was pitching in tough situations, high-leverage situations. That last month of the season, I felt like I was pitching really well. It’s not how you start, it’s how you end.”
That has laid the groundwork for his strong showing this spring.
“I think it’s about staying in the same rhythm that I was in in 2020,” he added. “It’s about staying in the same routine… obviously, it was only 60 games, but it was a competitive season.
“For the most part, I was able to train the same way I was able to train heading into the 2020 season… My work was pretty much the same because I had a lot of success.”
It’s made life a little easier for manager Luis Rojas, who has a fortified bullpen to work with heading into 2021 that saw late-inning options like Trevor May and Aaron Loup added to the mix alongside Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances — all of whom could threaten Diaz’s role as closer.
“He’s executing out there,” Rojas said on Saturday. “There’s something different in him; his body, his demeanor. Experience is making him better, it’s making him stronger.”
“He came ready to camp. That’s what experience does. Experience just puts you ahead.”