Rojas urges Díaz to harness emotions on hill

August 1st, 2020

NEW YORK -- Some hours before the Mets’ series opener in Atlanta on Friday night, manager Luis Rojas met in person with closer -- or perhaps former closer -- to discuss what happened the previous night, when Díaz walked two batters, hit another and allowed a run in a non-save situation.

Rojas said he disliked some of the negative emotion that Díaz showed on the mound as he wrestled with his fastball and slider control. Díaz countered that he had not been used in five days, and felt uncomfortable with the long layoff. Each side acknowledged the other’s points, then moved on.

Whether that will result in a role change for Díaz remains to be seen. Asked directly about how he plans to deploy Díaz, whose ERA nudged up to 5.67 since joining the Mets, Rojas said he considers him one of the Mets’ closing options -- the same answer the manager consistently gave before the season began, despite the job clearly belonging to Díaz.

Díaz, for his part, said he is happy pitching in any role, but that he considers himself a closer-level talent.

“I feel like I have the stuff to be a closer,” Díaz said through an interpreter. “I’ve proven over the last four or five years that I have the stuff and that I can be a closer because I’ve done it before. Whether it’s here or whether it’s wherever, I think I can be a closer.”

From 2016-18, Díaz was unquestionably one of the game’s best ninth-inning arms, saving 109 games with a 2.64 ERA for the Mariners. But after the Mets acquired him in a seven-player deal that included two of their top prospects, Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, Díaz transformed into a different pitcher. Despite continuing to feature upper-90s velocity, Díaz blew seven saves last season.

He blew another in the Mets’ second game of 2020, but both he and Rojas came away from that inning unconcerned due to Díaz’s relatively sharp form on the mound. The conversation changed late Thursday, when Díaz threw merely 19 of his 35 pitches for strikes, struggling in particular with fastball control. What also grabbed Rojas’ attention was the normally stoic Díaz’s animated behavior after missing with several pitches.

“We talked a little bit about the emotional part during the inning,” Rojas said. “He was aware of it as well. So it was a really good conversation among coaches and player in order just to get things right back on track where they can be.”

Should the Mets look to build Díaz’s confidence in lower-leverage situations, , , and are all candidates to close based on matchups.

“We do have depth there,” Rojas said.

From the trainer’s room

threw four innings in a simulated game Friday in Brooklyn, and -- more importantly, as he tries to return quickly from a torn left calf muscle -- participated in PFP drills to test his athletic movements off the mound.

“I heard it went really good,” Rojas said. “He’s been going full-tilt.”

Mets officials have said the team will not activate Stroman until he proves he can field his position without issue. In the interim, Stroman has thrown bullpen sessions and now a sim game with no ill effects, in the hopes of keeping his arm as close to game shape as possible. Until Stroman can return, lefty David Peterson should remain in his rotation spot.

Roster churn

The Mets made their ninth and 10th roster moves of the young season on Friday, placing catcher René Rivera on the 10-day injured list with a hyperextended left elbow and calling up 12th-ranked prospect Franklyn Kilome for his big league debut.

Kilome, the return on the Mets’ trade of Asdrúbal Cabrera to the Phillies in July 2018, underwent Tommy John surgery three months later and has yet to pitch in regular-season game action since that surgery. He appeared in two games as a reliever this spring, allowing two runs on three hits.

Water coolers beware

One side effect of no fans in the stands? Television viewers and radio listeners have heard some of the more colorful comments on the field from players -- including , who has (loudly) expressed his displeasure after defensive errors or unsuccessful at-bats.

McNeil, who received a routine off-day on Friday, said he’s not worried about his Major League-leading four errors in seven games at third base this season. But if that trend continues, he’ll likely remain an accidental fixture of hot mics across the country.

“I’m a really fiery person,” McNeil said. “I want to do everything perfect. If I don’t, I get a little upset.”