The problems in the back end of the New York Mets’ bullpen began early in 2014. It’s not even May yet, but enough has gone wrong with New York’s closers to last some teams through the summer. Original closer Bobby Parnell underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of the season after pitching just an inning on opening day. Jose Valverde looked promising at first but held the job for less than three weeks. Currently, it’s journeyman Kyle Farnsworth occupying the position non-exclusively so no guarantees that he keeps it. Farnsworth is just as unpredictable as Valverde and it appears neither of them can be trusted although I wouldn’t count out Papa Grande for good just yet. Either man can hold the position for a little while, but how long can we really expect that to last? The same could be said for any internal option the Mets go with, but at least we won’t have already seen that movie.
It seems Terry Collins and the Mets are drawing up a ‘closer-by-committee’ motif in Queens since nobody has been able to lock down the role. Four Met pitchers have notched saves this season. Farnsworth and Valverde are two along with Carlos Torres and perhaps the most unexpected of the bunch, Daisuke Matsuzaka. The original post on Dice-K’s first MLB save can be seen here. If no help is on the way for the Mets (which it should be), it appears that Collins along with pitching coach Dan Warthen will need to continue giving tryouts and auditions in the ninth. It is at least one person’s opinion that Matsuzaka should get the next crack at consistent work in the closer’s role. Not just one game, but at least a couple of weeks owning that duty—giving Collins and fans a gauge of whether or not he can do it consistently. Including that save, he’s been solid in his bullpen time. In 6.2 innings overall Dice-K has allowed just two hits and one earned run while striking out ten. It’s a small sample but there’s reason to take a shot on Matsuzaka. There isn’t much to lose here; nobody New York has thrown into the spot has made a lasting impression and it’s not yet evident that outside help is coming. Collins needs to keep exhausting options and Dice-K might just be the next logical one.
At first, it appeared as though Carlos Torres would be a better fit for the position. Dice-K could serve as long-reliever or perhaps even start in a pinch. It’s no secret that Matsuzaka wants to be a starter but he told Collins that he would pitch out of the bullpen if necessary. However, it could be argued that Dice-K fits the closing role better than anyone else the Mets are considering. Torres has also made spot starts and thrown some long relief before, so it’s not like they don’t have someone to occupy that role. It is certainly an adjustment in the bullpen for Dice-K, who’s been a starter since day one in the United States and almost his entire career in Japan. He’s the ultimate creature of habit and gets up to throw more than an hour before he would even need to get into the game to get his arm loose. This is because the guy notoriously takes forever to warm up and get comfortable, feeding into his starting pitcher mentality. This is part of the reason why a move like this could be a match with Dice-K. The Mets could be doing themselves and their pitcher a service by planting him in this role and giving him at least the chance along with an idea of the time he would be pitching, give or take depending on the game obviously. It isn’t quite starting but it could be the next best thing for Matsuzaka and the Mets. He still gets to have a particular routine and mentality while being able to more accurately estimate when he will be pitching and adjusting his warming up to it.
Anywhere between the 5th and 8th inning is a wide gap and when dealing with a pitcher that is used to knowing the situation he’s entering, closer is a good fit. It’s also worth noting that his arsenal of pitches might be too much for teams to handle in just one inning. There is no second or third time through the order, where Dice-K starts to falter and become more hittable. That’s why he’s in the bullpen to begin with. Since he has done well so far in the bullpen, maybe the routine and pitching time and warming up concerns are all obsolete. While that could prove to be true, I would say there’s a chance his lack of preparation time could display itself later on. Make the guy as comfortable as possible; Give him a role to call his own and try to make the continued bullpen transition as easy as possible. Most importantly, the Amazin’s could gain some stability if Dice-K is able to continue the success he’s had out there so far. *Side note: Why is there no attachment to this team with Joel Hanrahan? We’ve been saying it for weeks and it’s increasingly obvious he should get a shot, too.