PHILADELPHIA -- Doubt crept in during the summer of 2017 when, as a 27-year-old, Chris Mazza posted a strong season for the Marlins’ Double-A Jacksonville affiliate but never sniffed the Majors. More uncertainty surfaced the following year, when the Marlins released Mazza and he had to grind his way back up the Independent League ladder. Still, Mazza persevered as best he could, signing a Minor League deal with the Mariners, then bouncing to the Mets organization via the Rule 5 Draft.
“There was never a time that I wanted to quit,” Mazza said Wednesday, after earning his first big league callup at age 29. “But there were times where [I thought], ‘Is this going to happen? When is it going to happen?’
“To finally get here, it’s like an overwhelming excitement.”
With Noah Syndergaard set to return from the injured list on Sunday, the Mets optioned his rotation replacement, Walker Lockett, to Triple-A Syracuse. That gave them extra roster space to call up Mazza, who had posted a 3.59 ERA in 12 Minor League starts at Double-A Binghamton and Syracuse. Mazza was watching the Mets game on television when Syracuse manager Tony DeFrancesco called to deliver the news.
“I’m trying to hold back tears as I’m trying to listen to instructions of what I’ve got to do,” Mazza said. “That was a pretty emotional roller-coaster. After that, I just called my dad and let it out a little bit.”
Mazza’s newfound success in his late 20s has revolved in part around an altered pitch mix. In years past, the right-hander threw his slider infrequently, before Mets Minor League coaches encouraged him to use that pitch more. He’s now throwing it around 25 percent of the time, adding depth to a repertoire that also includes a sinker, changeup and cutter.
Given the state of the Mets’ bullpen, which ranks 28th in baseball in ERA, Mazza has a chance to stick even after Syndergaard returns. All he needs is continued success.
“I’ve played with tons of guys who grinded out the Minor Leagues, which is not an easy thing to do,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “You have to love the game to do that until you’re 29, and eventually realize your dream. So he’s going to be a guy that’s going to bring some want-to to this role.”
Vargas addresses comments
Jason Vargas, who did not apologize this week nor take questions after an altercation with a reporter last Sunday in Chicago, said Wednesday that “all the info wasn’t out there,” but that he would not deliver his side of the story “because it’s over.”
“Our organization made a statement,” Vargas said. “We put an end to it.”
While others in the Mets organization, including Callaway and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, apologized to the reporter for the incident, Vargas declined to follow suit.
“It was an unfortunate confrontation,” Vargas said. “I think that anybody that knows me or anybody that’s played with me through the duration of my career, there’s never been a situation like that. So to think that it just happened out of the blue would be foolish.”
Ready to rock
As expected, the Mets have penciled Syndergaard in to come off the injured list on Sunday against the Braves at Citi Field.
“Everything went great with his rehab start last night,” Callaway said of the right-hander, who has been on the IL since June 16 due to a right hamstring strain. Syndergaard struck out nine batters over five innings of a rehab start Tuesday for Class A Brooklyn.
To clear space for Mazza on their 40-man roster, the Mets designated left-handed reliever Ryan O’Rourke for assignment. A Minor League signing over the winter, O’Rourke appeared in two games for the Mets earlier this year, and posted a 1.86 ERA over his last nine appearances at Syracuse.
When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
From the trainer’s room
Reliever Jeurys Familia, who is trying to work his way back from a Bennett lesion (essentially a bone spur) in his right shoulder, said Wednesday that he is primed to begin a rehab outing soon. Familia has thrown multiple bullpen sessions this week and has “had good results there,” in his own words.
Familia said he is not considering offseason surgery to correct the issue, which has twice forced him to the IL. Instead, he plans to work to strengthen the muscles in his shoulder.
Prior to landing on the IL, Familia posted a 7.81 ERA in 29 appearances.