NEW YORK -- Major League relievers, Trevor May said, are in a constant state of “hop-scotching that line” between pitching through soreness and taking needed rest. It is rare for a reliever to feel 100 percent. May pitched through plenty of discomfort early this season before realizing that something was amiss, undergoing an MRI and being diagnosed with a stress reaction that will cost him 8-12 weeks.
While that may be a dramatic example, it illustrates the daily dance that all relievers do. So when Buck Showalter asked Adam Ottavino if he might be available Wednesday after pitching on each of the previous two days, Ottavino went through his usual checks and told his manager that he was “good to go.” The fact that he was the first Mets reliever to pitch on three consecutive days this season, Ottavino added, was “immaterial” to what happened next.
Entering with the bases loaded, Ottavino walked Travis d’Arnaud to force in a run. He allowed a two-run double to Adam Duvall and an RBI single to Dansby Swanson. Then he departed, having played the most central role in the Mets’ 9-2 loss to the Braves at Citi Field, which snapped their streak of seven consecutive series wins to open the season.
“It was kind of a byproduct of having to compete with our guys yesterday to win those two games,” Showalter said, referring to the Mets’ doubleheader sweep of the Braves on Tuesday.
The Mets did not actually tax their bullpen to any great extent in that doubleheader, since they received 13 innings from their starting pitchers. Drew Smith handled the heaviest load, pitching two innings to make himself unavailable for the series finale. Seth Lugo also pitched, and the Mets have a long history of avoiding using him on back-to-back days if they can afford to do so. May recently landed on the injured list, and Showalter considered his replacement, Adonis Medina, more of a length option than a high-leverage reliever. Lefties Chasen Shreve and Joely Rodríguez weren’t prime options against the right-handed d’Arnaud. Edwin Díaz is exclusively a late-game option.
That left Ottavino.
“They probably wouldn’t have asked if those guys were around,” Ottavino said. “But to be honest, I felt good. And I like to pitch a lot. I have good numbers the third day in a row, so I can’t use that as an excuse.”
To the contrary, Ottavino allowed runs on three of the four occasions when he pitched on a third consecutive day last season, producing a 6.75 ERA and 2.25 WHIP in those games for the Red Sox. He didn’t attempt it at all from 2019-20, but none of that mattered when Showalter was making Wednesday’s bullpen decisions. What mattered was that Ottavino felt well enough to pitch, and so Showalter asked him to do so. As far as they were concerned, the process was sound.
About the only thing Showalter regretted was that all three of Ottavino’s runs went on starting pitcher Tylor Megill’s line, making it unrepresentative of how well Megill pitched. Over the first four innings, Megill did not allow a hit, becoming the 13th pitcher in Mets history to throw nine consecutive hitless innings. It was a notable nugget for the man who played the most prominent role in New York’s combined no-hitter last week at Citi Field, but less fun when it came attached to a loss.
“Cool stat,” was how Megill put it, “but at the end of the day, I’m just trying to pitch.”
With Showalter serving as their conductor, the Mets are trying to balance the art of keeping a bullpen healthy with the daily task of winning games. So far this season, he’s doing both with aplomb, even if a few cracks have begun to show -- the Mets’ 4-4 record over their last eight games, for one; May’s injury for another.
Without May, the Mets will need to rely more heavily on pitchers such as Ottavino and Lugo in May and June, while perhaps inviting new names into Showalter’s circle of trust. Showalter, in turn, will count on his relievers to be honest with him about when they need a day of rest and when they don’t.
“It’s a thing you have to learn what that means to you,” May said. “You’ve got to be like, ‘OK, what does sore mean? What does hurt mean? The longer you go, the more experience you have working through things. I know myself, and I know the other guys down there. We’re a pretty good group of guys that are all really, really focused on going out there and being available every day.”