Mets must fix their bullpen to contend, as latest blown lead makes clear

WASHINGTON — As New York Mets starting pitcher Christian Scott hurled a pivotal pitch during the sixth inning Wednesday night, reliever Adam Ottavino had just reached the bullpen mound to warm up.

Before Ottavino began throwing, Jesse Winker hit Scott’s pitch for a single that put runners on the corners for the Washington Nationals. There was one out. Scott, having reached 90 pitches, showed signs of fatigue. But the Mets held a four-run lead. Injuries, Edwin Díaz’s suspension and a string of games without a day off had taxed their bullpen. So Mets manager Carlos Mendoza stuck with Scott.

For a while, it appeared the Mets would squeak by using this route. A visit from pitching coach Jeremy Hefner preceded the next at-bat. Then Scott induced a pop-up for the second out. Mendoza and Hefner then stood at the first level of stairs in the Mets’ dugout. Mendoza didn’t take another step until after Scott made a rare mistake, missing a location as Luis Garcia hit a three-run home run.

“That didn’t work,” Mendoza said of opting to squeeze more out of Scott.

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Christian Scott made a rare mistake before the bullpen unraveled as the Mets blew a 5-0 lead. (Rafael Suanes / USA Today)

Things only worsened from there for the Mets and their relievers.

New York lost 7-5 because their bullpen malfunctioned again. The Mets led by as much as 5-0, but Jake Diekman allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to score in a wretched seventh inning.

If the Mets (42-42) plan on competing for the playoffs — and their lineup has indicated that it’s capable of doing at least that much, if not more — then they must fix their bullpen.

On nearly an everyday basis, regardless of how many runs they score, the outcome of the Mets’ games comes down to whether or not their bullpen can eke out enough outs before blowing things.

The return of Díaz, who still has two more games left to miss, won’t fix that problem alone. Because it’s not just the guys they are calling up from Triple A to patch things up who have failed at times. Sometimes, the guys who are supposed to provide stability have instead struggled to find consistency.

Diekman needed 27 pitches to record one out. Mendoza relieved Ottavino with Diekman with two outs in the seventh inning because the veteran left-hander was guaranteed to face at least two left-handed batters at the top of the Nationals’ batting order. It’s hard to fault the logic, even if Ottavino looked sharp.

Diekman failed to put batters away. He got ahead 0-2 to CJ Abrams but walked him after 10 pitches. He was ahead 1-2 to Lane Thomas but allowed a double. He was ahead 1-2 to James Wood but gave up a single.

“They grind out at-bats and make you hurt yourself,” Diekman said. “And it snowballs.”

Diekman, who has a 4.73 ERA, holds a vesting option for next year worth $4 million if he reaches 58 appearances. So far, he has pitched in 38 games, meaning he’s easily on track for that option to vest, especially given the state of the Mets’ bullpen. He qualifies as one of their best options, but Brooks Raley’s injury has miscast him as New York’s top left-handed reliever. He has issued 21 walks in 26 2/3 innings.

Clearly, the Mets need to upgrade their bullpen.

The game on Wednesday probably would have played out differently if the Mets had their closer. Decisions like pushing Scott probably change. The last week would’ve been different, too. Relievers such as Reed Garrett and Diekman wouldn’t have been used as much.

“You just keep grinding it out,” Diekman said. “We know (Díaz) be back … soon-ish.”

But given their propensity for scoring runs, how many upcoming games may play out differently if the Mets add relievers at the deadline to supplement Díaz’s return?

(Photo of Jake Diekman: Rafael Suanes / USA Today)

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