Fujinami looking to shore up spring control issues

Mets reliever eyes consistency in zone; proud papa Díaz set to return; Tonkin stretches out

March 17th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Eventful innings are not always eventful for the right reasons. So it was on Friday night in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where reliever endured one of the most chaotic innings of any pitcher across baseball this spring.

Fujinami faced four batters in the Mets' 7-3 loss to the Nationals. He hit the first one, walked three others and uncorked three wild pitches along the way. The damage resulted in a trio of earned runs against Fujinami, who was already on the outside of the roster bubble even before that outing.

“He’s got good stuff,” manager Carlos Mendoza said. “Our goal is to get him in the strike zone as much as possible.”

It would be difficult to question the pure stuff of Fujinami, who topped out at 98 mph in Friday’s outing and has hit 103 in the Majors. But control has always been a problem for him, even dating back to his time in Japan. Last season, Fujinami walked 5.1 batters per nine innings, which ranked him 195th out of 199 big leaguers with at least 70 innings.

When those control issues surface, Fujinami said through an interpreter, it’s typically because of a mechanical issue. He has a habit of lagging his arm behind his body, which can affect the timing of his delivery.

The Mets -- much like the A’s and Orioles last season -- have tried to help Fujinami through video sessions and bullpen fixes, going as far as to have his catcher set up over the heart of the plate more often.

When it works, the results are electric, as they were during a perfect inning against the Astros on Wednesday. When it doesn’t, things can snowball in a hurry, as they did two days later against the Nationals.

“Sometimes, I can get out of it quick, like within an inning,” Fujinami said. “But sometimes, I can’t.”

At this point, it will be difficult for Fujinami to crack the Opening Day roster despite his $3.35 million guaranteed contract. The Mets have four out-of-options pitchers on their 40-man roster and only two vacancies.

Adding Fujinami, who does have accessible Minor League options, would likely mean jettisoning someone else from the organization entirely. As such, he appears ticketed for Triple-A Syracuse, where he can play his way onto the roster later in the season.

“I can’t control how people or the front office or coaches evaluate me,” Fujinami said. “I just focus on what I can do and see what happens.”

Here comes the money

Mets owner Steve Cohen attended Saturday night’s game against the Astros, flying down from New York as he has on several other spring weekends. Cohen, who has yet to speak publicly on the state of the 2024 club, is expected to do so on Sunday morning.

Reunited and it feels so good

When Kodai Senga noticed a visitor in the clubhouse on Saturday, he did a double take before embracing him in a hug. It was Ryota Igarashi, a former Mets reliever who -- after leaving the team and MLB last decade -- played with Senga from 2013-18 on Japan’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Igarashi spent two seasons with the Mets from 2010-11 and hadn’t been back to Port St. Lucie until Saturday, when he traveled to Clover Park as a broadcaster working for the Japanese station NHK. Igarashi conducted an interview with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and got a kick out of reuniting with Dave Racaniello, his old bullpen catcher from more than a decade ago.

And of course, Igarashi spoke to Senga, who had consulted him when considering a jump to MLB after the 2022 season.

“That made me really happy when he signed with the Mets,” Igarashi said through an interpreter. “That’s a special team.”

Proud papa

Closer Edwin Díaz returned to camp on Saturday after a quick trip home to visit his wife, Nashaly, following the birth of their son, Lucas José. Díaz was expected to return to Grapefruit League action on Sunday.

Multi-inning man

Reliever Michael Tonkin stretched out to two innings in a game against the Astros, extending his spring scoreless streak to 5 1/3. The Mets value Tonkin in large part because of his multi-inning ability, which has put him squarely on the inside of the Opening Day roster bubble.

“He’s going to provide length,” Mendoza said. “This is a guy that had that role last year and was a pretty important piece for that bullpen with the Braves.”

Added Tonkin: “Whatever happens in two weeks or whatever is not in my hands, so I try not to worry too much.”