Smith recalled, eager to prove himself in 'pen

May 9th, 2021

NEW YORK -- For various reasons, one of the Mets’ more intriguing young bullpen arms has been unable to stick in the Majors for any length of time since debuting in 2018. burst onto the scene that year and experienced immediate success, posting a 3.54 ERA over 27 appearances as a rookie. But he tore his ulnar collateral ligament the following spring and spent the next year and a half recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Upon returning last summer, Smith never received consistent chances, shuttling up and down from the alternate training site throughout the abbreviated season. A poor outing in his final appearance bloated his numbers in a small sample, making them look worse than the overall body of work actually was.

Finally, this spring, Smith was racing toward a roster spot when he experienced a bout of shoulder inflammation that set him back several weeks. He remained in Florida when camp broke, staying away from the Mets until they called him up to Citi Field for his season debut on Sunday.

“Honestly, it was pretty demoralizing, just because I knew I had a decent chance to make the team, and I was pitching well,” Smith said of his spring shoulder injury. “I had finally started to feel pretty normal again after Tommy John. So that was the hardest part, was my elbow was starting to feel really good. I was actually just talking to the [physical therapists] about it in Spring Training, like, ‘Man, I’m feeling normal.’ And then that shoulder thing just happened. So it was pretty frustrating, but luckily, it was pretty minor, and I was able to bounce back pretty quick. Hopefully, it’s in the past now.”

Overall, Smith has produced a 4.11 ERA in 35 career appearances. He is one of the last remaining prospects from a 2017 Trade Deadline haul that saw the Mets trade several prominent veterans in exchange for a cadre of relief prospects. Last year, Smith introduced a cutter into his arsenal, pairing it with a fastball that he throws in the mid- to upper 90s (as well as a slower curve). He spent time two offseasons ago shadowing Clayton Kershaw in Texas, using that chance to learn how the future Hall of Famer tunnels his pitches.

In that manner, Smith hopes to give the Mets no choice but to keep him this time around.

“Every opportunity I get to come up here, I want to stick,” Smith said. “Obviously, having options is a part of the game, and I know that, and getting shuttled up and down happens. But every player wants to come up here and prove to them that they can stick, and be a major part of the bullpen, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

To clear space for Smith on the active roster, the Mets optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

Diaz dominant
With the Mets’ bullpen on fumes in the later innings of Sunday’s 4-2 win over the D-backs, manager Luis Rojas asked closer to lock down a five-out save for just the second time in his six-year career. More notable than the fact that he did it was how he did it. Not only did Díaz induce a key double-play ball to escape a jam in the eighth and strike out three of the four batters he faced in the ninth, but he also hit 101.6 mph on the radar gun in the process.

It was the fifth-fastest pitch of his career -- indicative of a season that has seen him add more than 1 mph to his average four-seam velocity. Díaz credited that to a tip from the Mets’ performance staff, who advised him to pack on 10 pounds this winter. The longtime closer did so and has seen quick results. With his added velocity, he has converted all five of his save opportunities with a 3.14 ERA.

"I’ve learned how to use my legs, how to strengthen my legs, because that’s where the power comes from to take some stress off of the arm," Díaz said. "So that’s really what it’s been. That’s what’s kept me throwing close to 100 or over 100.”

Farm report
Mets position-player prospects have been on fire to start the season. Entering Sunday’s play, the Mets’ top four hitting prospects -- Francisco Álvarez, Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty and Pete Crow-Armstrong -- had combined to bat .435 (27-for-62) with 11 doubles, three home runs, 17 RBIs, 20 walks and 16 strikeouts in less than a week.