Familia hopes to take opportunity and run with it
ATLANTA -- Opportunity is everything in the fickle world of late-inning relievers. Jenrry Mejia, who started last season in the Mets' rotation, fell into the closer's role only because Bobby Parnell tore a ligament in his pitching elbow, necessitating surgery. Parnell took the job only because Frank Francisco could not stay healthy. And so on and so forth, back through the history of the Mets and so many other clubs.
Now it is Jeurys Familia's turn. Though Mejia could certainly wrest the job back once he recovers from his current bout with right elbow inflammation, or Parnell could grab it when he returns from Tommy John rehab, the job belongs to Familia right now. And right now means everything.
"If you're a bullpen guy and you want to be a closer and you get the opportunity, you should run with it," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We don't know when [Mejia and Parnell] are coming back. It would be nice if we knew an exact date, and that they were going to come back 100 percent healthy. But Jeurys, that's why I wanted to get him in there [Thursday], was to get him some confidence that, 'Hey, look, the ninth inning's yours.'"
If ERA, strikeout rates and ground ball rates are any indication, Familia was the Mets' best reliever last summer, relying heavily on his upper-90s sinker. Though that velocity disappeared for much of Spring Training, Familia has rediscovered it in April, averaging 95.5 mph with that pitch.
Familia gave up one run with a four-run lead Thursday, but he has generally been solid in the ninth, posting a 1.98 ERA in save situations over the last four years. If he furthers that trend during this run as interim closer, it's possible he could drop the interim tag. Parnell is not due back until early May, while the Mets have no concrete timetable for Mejia. So the opportunity exists for Familia to grab the job and never give it back.
"When I told him we were going to close with him, he said he was ready to take it on," Collins said. "So we'll just see how he approaches it."