MILWAUKEE -- When bringing pitchers back from the injured list or the Minor Leagues, Buck Showalter tends to follow the conventional strategy of easing them into stressful situations. When Tylor Megill made his first appearance since mid-June earlier this week, Showalter chose a spot with his team leading by five runs. When David Peterson made his first relief appearance in weeks, Showalter gave him the bottom of the order in a four-run game.
But when it was Drew Smith’s turn to return from the IL, Showalter afforded him no such luxury. Lacking other fresh relievers on Wednesday, the manager inserted Smith with the bases loaded and the Mets trailing by two runs in the seventh inning at American Family Field. The reliever promptly allowed a game-breaking grand slam to Mike Brosseau in New York’s 6-0 loss to the Brewers.
“He needs to pitch,” Showalter said in explanation. “Drew’s only going to get better and better as we give him opportunities.”
Games remaining: 11
Standings update: First place, 1 game ahead of the Braves
Magic number to clinch the NL East: 12
In a perfect world, Showalter admitted, he would not have used Smith in that spot. But Adam Ottavino was unavailable after appearing in back-to-back games, and Showalter was hoping to avoid Seth Lugo (appearances on Sunday and Monday) and Trevor May (Sunday and Tuesday) as well. He also was not going to bring Edwin Díaz into a game the Mets were losing, after Díaz had recorded four outs the previous night.
That essentially left only Smith and Megill against Brosseau, a right-handed pinch-hitter. Given his desire to give Smith action following a nearly two-month stay on the IL with a lat strain, Showalter chose him. The result was not ideal for a pitcher who has now allowed eight of his 13 inherited runners to score.
“I mean, it’s tough, but that’s the life of a reliever,” Smith said. “I’ve just got to be ready for it and do better and execute my pitches better.”
Most important, Smith said, he came out of the outing feeling healthy, giving him a chance to compete for a spot on the Mets’ postseason roster. That -- clinching the playoffs -- was the team’s most noteworthy accomplishment over three games in Milwaukee, easing the sting of the Mets’ inability to put additional separation between themselves and the Braves in the NL East race.
The bullpen picture should look rosier when the Mets open a three-game series in Oakland on Friday, with Díaz, Ottavino, Lugo and May all presumably available. Smith will be ready to pitch as well, perhaps in a lower-leverage spot than the one that doomed the Mets in Milwaukee.
“Obviously, today wasn’t ideal,” Smith said. “But I feel like throughout the rehab process, I was sharp and my stuff was better than it was before I got hurt -- kind of reminiscent of early in the year. So that’s one of the positives. My velo is good and the break on my pitches is good, so I’m not really too concerned about anything going forward.”