Avilan staking claim to a bullpen spot

Syndergaard expresses Giant disappointment at OBJ trade

March 13th, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ask Mets officials, and they will say that only five of their seven bullpen jobs are set. Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson and Robert Gsellman are all going to make the team.

Left unsaid is that a sixth spot appears written in pencil, if not yet ink. Fully healthy after experiencing left shoulder weakness late last season, Luis Avilan recorded a save Wednesday in the Mets' 2-1 win over the Astros, and has struck out nine batters with no walks in 7 2/3 innings this spring. Avilan has also allowed just two runs, making him a favorite to join Wilson as a left-handed option in New York's bullpen.

"I feel like I have shown that I'm healthy," Avilan said. "That's the concern that they had coming into camp, because they know the ability that I have. The main question was if I was really healthy in my shoulder, which I think I've been showing that all spring."

Such concerns, Avilan said, are why the Mets offered him a Minor League deal instead of a guaranteed Major League one. Avilan, 28, has excelled the past three seasons for the Dodgers, White Sox and Phillies, posting a combined 3.32 ERA thanks in large part to an uptick in his changeup usage. Avilan has thrown that pitch nearly 50 percent of the time the past three years, and has impressed team officials with it this month.

Still, he is taking nothing for granted with roughly a half-dozen other relievers still vying for jobs. If the Mets choose not to carry Avilan on the Opening Day roster, he has a clause in his contract allowing him to seek employment elsewhere.

"That's what I thought in the offseason, only to receive a Minor League deal," Avilan said when asked about his confidence in making the team. "So, who knows. I don't have the answer for that. But at least I'm healthy and I feel like the other teams have seen that, too."

A Giant opinion

Count Noah Syndergaard among those befuddled by that other New York team in the news this week.

"I don't know what the Giants are doing," Syndergaard quipped, when asked about the football team's trade of star wide received Odell Beckham Jr. "We'll find out."

Syndergaard, who grew up a half hour south of Arlington, Texas, says he never really latched onto his family's Cowboys fandom. He's not a Giants fan, either, but respects Beckham's ability. Now? Syndergaard says he may become a Browns fan.

"I like Baker Mayfield, honestly," he said. "I like the way he competes and his mentality out there on the mound. Not the mound. The field."

Pardon Syndergaard for the slip of the tongue; he's typically asked baseball questions. There simply wasn't much concern about Syndergaard's performance on the mound Wednesday, given the 5 2/3 shutout innings he threw against the Astros.

"He was great," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said, lauding in particular Syndergaard's work to limit the running game. "Of course, the stuff was effective. Great command with the fastball and the secondary pitches are always above-average."

Up next

Like Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard before him, Zack Wheeler will stretch out into the middle innings Thursday when he starts a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. Second baseman Robinson Cano, who requested to play in six straight games to prepare for the season, will also make the trip. He'll take at least one at-bat against St. Louis starter Michael Wacha.