Mired in rough stretch, Díaz gives up four-run lead

Mendoza says Díaz still the closer despite confidence struggles

May 19th, 2024

MIAMI -- had a variety of demons to exorcize when he stepped onto the mound at loanDepot park in the ninth inning on Saturday. It was on that field that Díaz’s 2023 season ended before it started, when he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico’s win over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

More than 14 months later, after knee surgery and much rehab, Díaz crossed the infield dirt and toed the rubber looking to shut down the Marlins, who trailed the Mets by four runs. It wasn’t a save situation, which was a good thing -- the previously lights-out closer had blown three saves in his past five outings.

But instead of rebounding, Díaz surrendered four runs in just one-third of an inning, including a game-tying three-run homer from Josh Bell that sent the game to extras, before Miami walked off New York, 10-9, in the 10th inning.

“I wanted him in the game,” manager Carlos Mendoza said. “It was a four-run lead, I felt good where we were at and he’s one of the best guys we got here. He’s just struggling right now and he couldn’t get the three outs.”

Postgame, the Mets’ clubhouse was somber. It was a hard loss, individually and as a whole. New York was ahead 7-2 entering the bottom of the seventh before starter Luis Severino allowed a leadoff walk and a pair of RBI hits. By the end of the inning, the Mets’ lead was down to two runs.

“The last inning out there, I keep walking guys,” Severino said. “I need to stop walking the leadoff hitter, you know? Every time you walk the leadoff hitter, that run’s going to score. So I need to be better.

“We lost a good game. It’s like, every game that we’re losing the last couple days -- it’s sad when you lose again like that.”

Arguably no one was more upset postgame than Díaz, though. For a player both teammates and opponents agree is one of the best closers in the game, it’s been a tough first month-and-a-half.

It has already been documented that Díaz’s command hasn’t been at its best this year, and that did factor into the result vs. the Marlins: There were two sliders that Díaz couldn’t locate, resulting in a leadoff double and Bell’s homer. But otherwise, his stuff was solid. Díaz’s four-seam fastball hovered in the upper 90s, topping out at 99.1 mph.

“The slider was all over the plate today,” Mendoza said. “... At the beginning of the year, [the issue] was fastball command and the slider had depth. Today, that wasn’t the case. It was more like a cutter. … So, he’s working through some things mechanically, and, like I said, he’ll be fine.”

Before Díaz can master his command -- or perhaps while he works to regain it -- it’s his confidence that is at the forefront of the Mets’ focus.

“[It’s] my confidence, right now,” Díaz said. “I won’t lie. My confidence, I feel like it’s down right now. I’m trying. I’m making pitches, I’m throwing strikes, I’m trying to do my best to help the team win. … When you’ve got low confidence like I was feeling today a little bit, I was trying to make pitches and to get my clean inning and reinforce my confidence, but that wasn’t [happening] today.”

“When you have one of the better pitchers, [one of] the best closers in the game going through the way he’s going through, I think it comes down to the confidence level,” Mendoza said. “Right now, you can tell that he’s putting pressure on himself because he’s not getting the results. But we will continue to work with him and, you know, he’ll get [back] to it.”

There is only so much Mendoza or the Mets can do. They can offer Díaz support, as Francisco Lindor did in the clubhouse Saturday night after Díaz concluded his postgame interview. And they can help put Díaz in the best position to succeed. But after that, it’s up to the closer himself.

There’s a chance the Mets decide to shift Díaz out of the closer role, but that isn’t a move to make as a knee-jerk reaction. There will be conversations had over the coming days, amongst the coaching staff and with Díaz himself.

“He’s still our closer,” Mendoza said. “He will get through it. He’s too good of a pitcher for him to continue to struggle for a long time. [So] we will have these conversations and see what we got.”

“We got one of the best closers in the game,” Severino said. “He’s having a tough time, but I think he’s going to find out what’s going on and we’re going to be better.”

So as the Mets look to right the ship, there are new demons for Díaz to vanquish, starting with reclaiming his confidence and his trust in himself.