The Mets have an unsurvivable problem in their relief corps
Once a legitimate strength of their team, the Mets suddenly find the latest iteration of their bullpen as a serious weak point. Their problem specifically lies the choices to be used in the sixth and seventh innings.
And on Sunday, that weakness got weaker for the Mets, and raised some serious doubt in the process.
Bobby Parnell entered the game on Sunday in a 1-1 tie, seemingly moments after the game resumed after a brief rain delay.
But as was the case on Friday night against the Pirates, Parnell simply had next to no command of his pitches.
And what started out bad ended up far worse.
Parnell allowed a leadoff walk to Pedro Florimon, which just can’t happen in a 1-1 game against the Pirates late. But he managed to induce a comebacker off the bat of Michael Morse, a groundball destined to end up in a 1-6-3 double play.
Ruben Tejada was somehow late covering the bag, and Parnell ended up throwing the ball – which was on target – into centerfield, as Daniel Murphy failed to back the play up.
Tejada took ownership of the misplay.
“I’m late to the bag,” Tejada acknowledged.
Manager Terry Collins wisely deflected the blame off of Tejada or any one player, and simply said the defense had to make the play.
“The part that really gets me sometimes, we’ve always got to point a finger at somebody. It’s always somebody’s fault,” the manager said. “Sometimes it’s not just one guy. Maybe it just happens. It’s part of the game. We didn’t make the play. We’re supposed to make the play. But I’m not going to lump it on one guy’s shoulders that he was two steps over too far, or the throw was too fast. Everybody is sitting there on the bench, ‘Well, jeez, he should have crow-hopped. He should have been closer to the bag.’ Make the play. It’s the big leagues.”
Whoever was to blame, that’s when the floodgates opened against Parnell, who could not get out of his own way after that misplay.
First, an RBI single by the red-hot Gregory Polanco. Then, after Starling Marte flew out, Travis d’Arnaud was charged with a passed ball to allow another run to score. After Neil Walker drew a walk, Aramis Ramirez singled in a run.
That was all for Parnell, who was relieved by Eric O’Flaherty. And he did Parnell and the Mets no favors, either, as he allowed an opposite field single to lefty Pedro Alvarez which plated Ramirez.
Four runs in, and Parnell, O’Flaherty and the rest of the Mets had been dusted in this three-game series.
“I am a little concerned about Bobby,” manager Terry Collins explained about his former closer. “One of the things that we’ve seen is this roller coaster that these guys coming out of surgery have. One day last week he was 97 [mph]. This week wasn’t as good.”
Parnell’s mechanics are unquestionably different now than they were before the surgery. It’s not clear if that’s the result of rust, the injury to the elbow, his neck, the latter two, or all three. But his arm is clearly behind the rest of his body and it’s resulting in a complete lack of overall command, whether it’s the fastball or knuckle-curve.
What’s worse, as Collins said, the velocity is wildly inconsistent, and when he’s centering his pitches the way he is, he’s just getting absolutely mauled.
Parnell chose not to speak with the media following the loss on Sunday.
The Mets are at the point where a decision needs to be made with Parnell. The easy decision for now is to keep him out of high leverage situations. But the Mets aren’t exactly playing in a lot of laughers lately thanks to their offense which has browned out over the last ten days.
So finding spots for Parnell may be difficult to achieve, and the Mets really can’t afford to have a dead roster spot, especially in the bullpen.
But then there’s O’Flaherty, who was brought in to get left-handed hitters out, and he just hasn’t done that nearly enough since being acquired. It’s somewhat surprising considering he’s been effective throughout his career as a left-handed specialist.
But he’s dealt with a shoulder problem in 2015 and missed some time as a result. There’s no way to truly know what the root cause of his struggles have been in 2015, but his location is way off and it doesn’t seem like he’s getting the necessary swings on his breaking balls, resulting in hitters counts and O’Flaherty being forced to challenge more often that he’d like.
Whatever the case is with either pitcher, the Mets suddenly have a serious problem at this stage of the game, and if they intend to be successful down the stretch of the season, Sandy Alderson has to address this problem sooner rather than later.