MILWAUKEE -- Far from ready to shake up the ninth inning, Mets manager Mickey Callaway on Thursday threw his full support behind closer Jeurys Familia, who has blown four of his first 17 save opportunities -- including one Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to the Marlins.
Beyond simply confirming that Familia will continue to see chances in the ninth, Callaway lauded the way Familia has pitched.
"If you look at the numbers, he's been our best reliever," the manager said. "There's no way around that. People can say, 'Nobody else has four blown saves.' Well, nobody else has pitched in really close games in save situations. If you look at it, the year he had 51 saves, all of his numbers are way better than that. He's having a career year, numbers-wise."
That is true to an extent. While Familia's ERA, walk rate and strikeout rate are all improved from his 51-save campaign in 2015, his ground-ball rate is significantly down. His FIP, a statistic designed to predict ERA with defense taken out of the equation, is roughly equal.
Callaway went on to say that Familia "is the best version of himself he's ever been, since he's been pitching," which is an equally murky statement. From 2014-15, Familia was one of the game's best relievers, posting a 2.03 ERA. While he did not strike out as many batters as he has in a small sample this season, he induced ground balls more often.
Still, Callaway believes Familia is the Mets' best option at closer. Despite saying this offseason that he might mix and match save opportunities among Familia, AJ Ramos, Anthony Swarzak and Jerry Blevins, Callaway has given all of the team's traditional save chances -- a three-run lead or less entering the ninth -- to Familia. That is partially because Swarzak has spent nearly the entire season on the disabled list, Callaway said, and partially because Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have emerged as potent middle-innings weapons, reducing the need for Familia to pitch in mid-game situations.
In the ninth, Familia has struggled relative to the rest of the league, converting only 77 percent of his save opportunities -- the second-worst rate among MLB pitchers who have spent the entire season as closers. But that doesn't mean the Mets are unsatisfied with his work.
"I'm sure there's a comfort level for him out there closing," Callaway said. "I think the thing that probably isn't comfortable is that every game we play is a one-run game. That's just how it is. We've got to score more runs."
• Prior to Thursday's game, Callaway and his coaching staff met to discuss how the Mets, who rank 29th in baseball in runs per game since the start of May, can improve their offense. One focal point has been cutting down on pregame batting practice; to that end, most players hit exclusively in an indoor cage before Thursday's game.
"We're talking every day about trying to implement new things," Callaway said.
• Two of the three Mets who did take the field for BP were Yoenis Cespedes (strained right hip flexor) and Todd Frazier (strained left hamstring), who are inching toward returns from the DL. Frazier also performed a series of light sprints, whereas Cespedes has not attempted to run since landing on the DL earlier this month.