'We need to talk': Díaz struggles to find zone

July 31st, 2020

NEW YORK -- When blew his first save of the season last weekend, Mets manager Luis Rojas stood by his closer, applauding Díaz's form in both Summer Camp and the early season.

That tone changed late Thursday night, after Díaz retired just one of the five batters he faced in a 4-2 loss to the Red Sox, walking two men and hitting another with the bases loaded in a non-save situation. Rojas said afterward that he plans to meet with both Díaz and Mets officials to determine if the team will continue using the former All-Star closer in high-leverage spots.

"We need to talk," Rojas said. "That's something that we're going to do as a staff, me as the manager, and we'll talk with the player. We want to keep him on track to what he showed us in camp that he didn't show tonight. It's something that, from our coaching standpoint, we've got to detect right away and just work on it, fix it quick. Because we liked what we saw in the first two camps and what we saw earlier in the season. Tonight was definitely different."

Unlike during his blown save, when he spotted pitches on the corners to the Braves, Díaz struggled to find the strike zone Thursday. Entering with the Mets trailing by a run, he threw just 19 of his 35 pitches in the zone and generated only three swinging strikes.

"Different Díaz than what I saw [in the] first camp," Rojas said. "Different Díaz than what I saw in camp now, and then what I saw the first two outings. Arm-side misses, pulling the ball, slider backing up. Not the same Díaz we've seen recently."

Rojas also pointed to Díaz's emotions on the mound, which became uncharacteristically animated after he walked Andrew Benintendi to load the bases. Although Díaz struck out the next batter, Rafael Devers, he could not parlay that into consistent success. Instead, Díaz hit José Peraza with an errant slider to force in a run, bringing Rojas out from the dugout to remove him.

"I did see some emotions tonight when he wasn't getting the result, but I haven't seen anything mental from him," Rojas said. "His demeanor has been solid the whole time."

Díaz was not made available to speak to the media about his outing.

Should the Mets remove Díaz from the ninth inning, they don't lack for options to replace him. The most obvious candidate is Jeurys Familia, the franchise's single-season saves leader who struck out a pair in a dominant eighth inning Thursday. Familia features both closing pedigree and recent success, looking as strong as any Mets reliever in Summer Camp.

The team could also turn to Seth Lugo, but doing so would take him away from the multi-inning fireman role in which he has thrived. The Mets tend to save Lugo for the highest-leverage situations regardless of inning and try to avoid using him on back-to-back nights when possible. For those reasons, he seems a less likely replacement than Familia.

Dellin Betances also features closing experience, but the former Yankee has yet to rediscover his old upper-90s velocity since returning from a partial Achilles tear last September. Until he does, the Mets may keep him out of the ninth. Their final option is Justin Wilson, who could close on nights when a string of lefties is due up in the ninth.

Those answers will come in time. Late Thursday, the Mets' top priority was figuring out what to do with Díaz -- and how to fix him.

"Definitely, we've got to have the talks, we've got to work, and make sure that we're getting right back on track," Rojas said. "And also some emotions on the mound, we also need to be able to control those as well."