Slimmer Familia hopes diligence yields results

February 10th, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The hardest part, said, was cutting out rice and fried chicken -- “all the good stuff.” But if Familia was to achieve his offseason goals, he knew he had no choice. So the longtime Mets reliever forced himself to diet back home in the Dominican Republic this winter, dropping from 270 pounds to 240 over the course of four months.

“In the first two weeks, it was hard,” Familia said through an interpreter. “You had a lot of temptations. It was mostly with the food. But after that, I kind of got into a routine and was able to get it done.”

The result, Familia hopes, will be a metamorphosis from the pitcher who posted a 5.70 ERA last season to the one who saved 123 games with a 2.57 ERA from 2014-18.

Mets officials have spoken often about how critical and newcomer will be to their 2020 bullpen, which general manager Brodie Van Wagenen hopes can go from 25th in the Majors in ERA to “one of the best in baseball.” They have talked less about Familia, whose rebound may be every bit as critical.

“It’s going to be good,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “Those guys throw the ball good. They’ve got good talent. I know last year was a bit of a struggle, but I’m 100 percent sure those guys worked really hard this offseason to come back healthy and strong.”

For Betances, who spent much of the winter rehabbing from a torn left Achilles tendon, that work was straightforward. For Díaz, who endured a down year as closer, it was a bit more complicated, involving a team of pitching and wellness coaches.

Familia also recruited some help, working with the Mets on both his diet and workout routine. When he reported to Mets camp earlier this month, he did not do so crowing, as many players do, that he was in the best shape of his life. He was simply happy to be back at the playing weight he pitched at for most of his career.

The effect should be twofold. Familia hopes the lost weight will allow him to stay healthier, after he twice landed on the injured list last season due to shoulder issues. He also hopes it will help him be more effective, improving his balance on the mound.

“You don’t have all that weight on top of you, so you’re able to finish better,” Familia said. “It’s also just being able to finish pitches the way you want.”

That should manifest itself in better control, after Familia walked a career-high 6.3 batters per nine innings last season. When Familia did find the strike zone, hitters pummeled him, slugging .472 off his signature sinker -- by far the highest mark in any full season of his career.

Considering the Mets have Familia signed for two more years and $23.3 million guaranteed, they will take any optimism for a rebound. With all eyes on Díaz, Betances and standout reliever Seth Lugo, Familia should also be able to continue working in relative anonymity -- and potentially in lower-leverage situations to open the season. The sixth and seventh innings may be his domain, rather than the eighth.

As Familia put it, “everything feels a little easier,” especially now that his diet has become routine. Only occasionally does he sneak in a cheat meal, enjoying some of the rice he’s avoided.

“Sometimes,” Familia said, laughing.