When Mets General Manager Omar Minaya signed Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez and dealt for Seattle closer J.J. Putz in mid-December, he had thought he had solved the most paramount issue with the Mets, the bullpen, by assembling the most glamorous eighth, ninth-inning combo in MLB.
On paper, of course.
Mets fans, and probably manager Jerry Manuel, dreamt of worry-free late innings. Dreams of a duo so dominant that a friendly rivalry would develop rooted in who would strike out the most batters in a given appearance. Dreams of a duo so dominant that it would put all other bullpens to shame.
Albeit premature, some Mets fans felt safe declaring it’s a seven-inning ball game.
The Mets bullpen looked beautiful on paper in December, January, February and March, but not in April, and certainly not in May. It’s not because of K-Rod. He’s exceeded expectations, touting a 0.87 era while securing every save (14) served to him. The same cannot be said for his counterpart, J.J. Putz.
The scouting reports of Putz justified the excitement. Most read like this: “His fastball consistently reaches 97-98 miles per hour with great command. His slider displays movement and reliability. His splitter is untouchable.”
But that was on paper.
This is how he has actually performed: His fastball tops at 94 mph and is consistently too high, catching too much of the plate. His slider is flat with erratic command and his splitter is, simply put, very hittable.
Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen believed he solved Putz’s problem: his delivery. In a bullpen session before yesterday’s game, they modified his delivery, speeding it up while also lowering his hands during the set position.
This adjustment, however, proved to have the adverse effect on the right hander.
Putz’s appearance last night versus the Pirates can only be described as awful. He failed to get an out. He yielded four straight hits, including two sharp hits up the middle, ultimately surrendering four runs and the Mets win.
“Over the last four years, I’ve had outstanding fastball command,” Putz said. “And when I can’t go out there and command my fastball...it’s really frustrating”
Already, through 28-1/3 innings, Putz has issued more walks (19) than in both the 2006 and 2007 season. But it’s not just the walks. He has also only stuck out 19 batters, making his strikeouts per nine innings, 6.0, the lowest average in his career. His era is also on the doorstep of 5.00
Minaya and Manuel are now struck with a pop quiz that no one would have imagined five months ago. Who is our setup man?
I’ll give them a few hints. He’s 24 years old. He sports the second lowest era in the bullpen, 2.02. And, his fastball consistently hovers around 98 mph, once even touching triple digits.
And, the answer is not J.J. Putz.
Hopefully they get the clue.