Mets facing roster decisions after tough road trip

Third base, rotation, 'pen all set to be sorted out as club looks to rebound from 2-6 stretch

May 22nd, 2024

CLEVELAND -- All told, the Mets played eight games on their longest road trip to date through Philadelphia, Miami and Cleveland. They lost six of those, including a 6-3 series finale at Progressive Field on Wednesday to a Guardians team that swept them.

“It doesn’t feel good,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “You’ve just got to learn from it and move on.”

But what can the Mets learn from a mostly empty trip? They already know they need to play better. They understand they must upgrade their results, lest the season slip away from them. All they can do right now is alter a few aspects of the team, which could happen in the coming days.

In particular, three areas seem ripe for it:

Imminent decisions at third base
At this point, it would seem disloyal to take playing time away from , who has thrived offensively while playing a perfectly reasonable third base. Manager Carlos Mendoza said he writes his daily lineup card partially based on matchup data pored over days in advance, and partially based on feel -- riding the hot hand. That system resulted in sitting twice in three games this week against right-handed pitchers, while Vientos went 3-for-7 with a homer, two doubles and a walk.

“He’s not missing pitches,” Mendoza said. “He’s ready to go from pitch one, and he’s getting pitches in the strike zone and he’s doing damage. It’s a shorter swing. He’s impacting the baseball, not chasing as much -- not only against lefties, but righties. I like where he’s at right now.”

Mendoza added that he considers the situation “fluid.” When asked more directly following Wednesday’s loss if both players will be present as the Mets begin a three-game series against the Giants this weekend, the manager replied: “We haven’t decided that.” Before the road trip, Mendoza said he would reevaluate this situation following that eight-game swing. Thursday’s off day will provide him and president of baseball operations David Stearns the chance.

What’s clear is that Vientos has done everything possible to solidify his roster spot. Whether Baty remains alongside him remains to be seen.

Upcoming decisions in the rotation
Following Tuesday’s loss, Adrian Houser was upbeat about his performance, saying he’s “been working really hard the past few weeks” on repeating his mechanics -- specifically on keeping everything on a straight line to home plate. Of note, Houser’s average fastball velocity in that start was 95.5 mph, a season high and up nearly 4 mph from his previous outing. He hadn’t routinely thrown that hard in a start since 2022.

But Houser also allowed six runs, bloating his ERA to 7.88 over 37 2/3 innings. Once already, the Mets have demoted him to the bullpen. If team officials want to, they can use Thursday’s off day to their advantage, skipping Houser’s next start and inserting David Peterson into the rotation as soon as Wednesday. On that plan, every starter would still receive an extra day of rest, and the Mets could proceed with a six-man rotation at least until their ensuing off days on June 6 and 7 (the lead-up to their London Series).

The alternative would be either keeping Houser in the rotation or shifting back to a five-man rotation immediately, either of which would force Peterson to Triple-A Syracuse. But the way Peterson has pitched on his Minor League rehab assignment, with an 0.46 ERA over five starts, a 29-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a fastball that’s hit 96 mph, he certainly deserves to be in the Majors.

(For now, Kodai Senga remains a non-factor in this equation. Multiple setbacks have slowed his progress to the extent that even a June return appears less and less likely.)

Daily decisions in the bullpen
When the Mets were trailing by three runs in the late innings Tuesday, Edwin Díaz began warming for what looked to be a low-leverage spot. Once the Mets scored twice to increase the leverage, Díaz sat back down. He wound up watching from the bullpen as Sean Reid-Foley pitched the eighth inning instead.

A day later, Mendoza indicated his Wednesday plan was to try to squeeze three innings out of Reed Garrett and Adam Ottavino in a tie game. But Garrett allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh and Ottavino labored in the eighth, rendering the plan moot.

Since Díaz coughed up a four-run lead in the ninth inning Saturday, the Mets have been looking for softer spots to improve their closer’s confidence. He hasn’t pitched since that time. Until Díaz does, Mendoza will continue piecing together the late innings in unorthodox ways.

One thing, however, is clear: for the Mets to reach their goals this season, they will need Díaz to reestablish himself as a significant part of it.