Tuesday, August 3, 2021
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Mets sticking with closer Edwin Diaz despite alarm bells

CINCINNATI — Edwin Diaz’s first significant slump in two years hasn’t reached the crisis level yet, with team officials determined to keep the right-hander in the closer’s role.

But alarm bells sounded after Diaz on Monday blew his third consecutive save by allowing a run in the ninth against the Reds before the Mets rallied to win 15-11 in 11 innings.

Diaz spoke to manager Luis Rojas and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner on Tuesday and received reassuring messages from both, who still see Diaz’s elite arsenal as the Mets’ best chance in save situations.

“It’s always tough to blow a save and to blow a save three times in a row is tough,” Hefner told The Post before the Mets faced the Reds at Great American Ball Park. “But what everyone needs to know and, especially him, and what we have told him is he’s four outings removed from his best performance as a Met when he punched out the side in 10 pitches, so he is not that far removed from his best outing.”

That performance against the Pirates came a day before Diaz’s slump began. The next day Diaz was summoned for a five-out save, but wilted in the ninth, allowing two runs in the loss at Citi Field.

On Monday, Diaz surrendered an RBI double to Jesse Winker that tied it 9-9 in the ninth after he had walked the leadoff batter in the inning. In his meltdown against the Pirates on Saturday in Pittsburgh, he drilled the first batter he faced in the ninth and ultimately surrendered a walk-off grand slam to Jacob Stallings. The three straight blown saves are a career first for Diaz.

Edwin Diaz walks off the field after giving up a ninth-inning walk-off grand slam to the Pirates on Sunday.
Edwin Diaz walks off the field after giving up a ninth-inning walk-off grand slam to the Pirates on Sunday.

“My outing against the Pirates [on Saturday], I wasn’t commanding my pitches the way I want to,” Diaz said. “But [Monday] I was throwing strikes and commanding my pitches the way I want to. I didn’t get the best results, but it’s calm right now.

“Three games doesn’t mean a lot. I lost two games in a row, but [Monday] we won so I don’t worry about that. If I get the chance to save the game I will be there and ready to go.”

Diaz’s spin rate on his slider has dropped in July to 2,156 rpm, according to Statcast. In the first three months of the season, Diaz averaged 2,280 rpm with the same pitch. The drop off has occurred as MLB is actively policing the use of substances to grip the ball, increasing spin rate. But Diaz, without saying if he’s used such substances, said he hasn’t changed the way he’s gripped the ball in recent weeks.

“I grab the ball the same … I don’t care about my spin rate,” Diaz said over the weekend. “I think if you make pitches you will get outs.”

Diaz’s fastball velocity of 99 mph places him in the 100th percentile in MLB. He ranks in the 91st percentile for the numbers of swings and misses he’s produced. Overall, he’s pitched to a 4.30 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 38 appearances this season.

“He is one of the elite guys in the game who has special stuff who can get swings and misses,” Rojas said. “But if he doesn’t throw strikes, doesn’t establish, he’s not going to get chases and that is what happened with the first batter [Monday].

“We know that he’s going through a stretch, but the stuff is there. The Saturday before the All-Star break, that is the Diaz we want right now.”

Diaz said he needs to stay focused on getting the first out in an inning.

“The first batter has got to be the main thing for every pitcher,” he said. “If I get that first batter out we get better results. [Monday] I got the walk and the other day I got the hit by pitch. If I can get the first guy out it will be easy for me.”

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