Robertson continues to reward Buck's trust

Veteran reliever comes through again in high-leverage spot as Mets win rubber match

April 12th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Had Edwin Díaz been healthy, Mets manager Buck Showalter acknowledged that he probably wouldn’t have used the closer in the seventh inning of a two-run game Wednesday at Citi Field. Even Showalter’s aggressive bullpen usage has its limits.

But Díaz isn’t here; the closer will miss most if not all of this season recovering from right knee surgery. And while that remains an uncomfortable situation for the Mets to consider, it has freed Showalter to utilize his highest-leverage bullpen arms however he sees fit.

New York’s 5-2 win over the Padres provided the most extreme example to date. Rather than save de facto closer for the ninth inning, Showalter asked Robertson -- his best right-handed weapon against lefty hitters -- to retire Juan Soto with the tying runs on base in a two-run game in the seventh. Robertson induced a flyout of Soto and then came back for more, stranding an additional pair of Padres in the eighth.

Technically,  recorded the save in the series-clinching victory. But it was Robertson who performed the heaviest lifting.

“He’s like a utility pitcher,” Showalter said of Robertson. “He doesn’t care.”

That was an important factor when Soto stepped to the plate in the seventh at Citi, having already homered off Tylor Megill earlier in the game. Showalter had used his only left-handed reliever, Brooks Raley, to face Soto and three others in the sixth. That left Robertson, who features reverse career splits and recently began tinkering with a changeup again, as the obvious option to tackle Soto.

As usual, Soto worked his way deep into the count, spoiling a 1-2 curveball and taking a cutter off the plate, before reaching out and poking another curve to left field. The resulting flyout allowed the Mets to escape the inning with their lead intact, which they had built on solo homers from Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso.

“I’m just fighting to get every out right there,” Robertson said. “We’re so close to the end of the game.”

The Mets weren’t quite there yet. In the ninth, with four outs and 27 pitches on Robertson’s ledger, Showalter turned from one former closer to another. Ottavino responded by inducing a game-ending double play to record his first save of the season. Robertson has two, to go along with a spotless ERA over 6 1/3 innings.

“At our stage in our career, I don’t think we really care too much,” Ottavino said of his and Robertson’s usage.

That has been a talking point throughout the past month, and it appears to be more than lip service. When Díaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee last month, Robertson said, “I don’t think anybody slept that night.” At the time, Robertson wasn’t thinking about how Díaz’s injury might affect his bullpen role, his usage or his importance to the team. He was focused on Díaz the human being.

Eventually, Robertson began reflecting on 2012, the year he stood on the outfield grass in Kansas City as Mariano Rivera tore a knee ligament shagging fly balls. That season, the Yankees asked a young Robertson to fill the Hall of Fame-sized void as best he could. He responded with a strong campaign that helped launch his career as Rivera’s eventual heir apparent.

Eleven years later, Robertson has become a veteran himself, the owner of 159 career saves and a willing participant in Showalter’s schemes. At least until the Trade Deadline, when the Mets will have a chance to bolster their bullpen, Roberson is going to need to be flexible. Even last year, Showalter intermittently used Díaz in the eighth if it meant matching him up against the middle of another team’s order.

With Díaz watching from afar, the philosophy does not change.

“I’ve adapted to it over the last probably five or six years,” Robertson said, referencing a 2017 trade back to the Yankees that resulted in the end of his full-time closing duties. “I feel like the game’s changed a lot. Managers are using guys in different situations. It’s all depending on leverage or matchups or who they want to see you face against. For me, I just look at the game as that’s how my role is now -- is to pitch whenever I’m called on."