One of the lowlights of yesterday's 14-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels was the number of home runs the New York Mets' pitching staff allowed. Starter Bartolo Colon surrendered four home runs on the day, including three consecutive homers in the first inning. Reliever John Lannan gave up the fifth homer in the eighth inning, which brings the Mets' pitching staff totals up to 21 home runs allowed on the season. That figure comes in only 12 games, which is an alarming rate.
At first glance, many would simply blame the Mets' bullpen for the team's struggles. The bullpen has been bad to start the season, compiling a 4.99 ERA and walking 21 batters in 39.2 innings pitched. They have allowed only four of the home runs, however, MetsBlog's Michael Baron points out on Twitter. The starting pitching has been downright atrocious, with an ERA of 4.95 to start the year. The starters have also given up 17 home runs in 72.2 innings pitched, a rate that they can't sustain if the Mets hope to have a winning season.
One reason for the uptick in home run rate is that the Mets' pitching staff isn't striking as many batters out as they did last season. The strikeouts have always been a problem for the bullpen, which is why the Mets focused on adding power arms to their group to start the year. The Mets' starting staff, however, pitches to contact more than it did last season. Losing Matt Harvey particularly hurts in the strikeout department, and while Bartolo Colon is an admirable replacement he doesn't strike out a lot of hitters any more.
Colon, Dillon Gee, and Jonathon Niese are all finesse pitchers who need to hit their spots or else they could be hit hard. That is what happened to Colon yesterday, who left a few too many fastballs over the middle early in the game. Angels' hitters were aggressive, attacking Colon's offerings and depositing them into the seats for early offense. The other two starters, Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia, are power arms. The problem for the two of them is that their control has been spotty, leading to short outings for them and increasing the workload on the bullpen.
In terms of the bullpen, a big part of the problem for them is that they are being overworked early in the season. In the past five games, the Mets' bullpen has had to pitch 21.1 innings. Aside from Jonathon Niese on Saturday, none of the starting pitchers over that stretch managed to even complete the sixth inning. Even if you grant that playing back to back extra inning games didn't help the cause, the fact is that the Mets need their starters to get deeper into games to help their bullpen.
Manager Terry Collins admitted after yesterday's game that reliever Scott Rice is likely still tired from all the work he received last season. Getting overworked two weeks into the 2014 season isn't helping any of the relievers, and that trend has to change if the Mets want their pitching to improve. Zack Wheeler is on the mound tonight, and despite of his poor results in his first two starts his reduction in walks is encouraging. Wheeler's problem is that he works deep counts to a lot of hitters, leaving him around 85 pitches by the start of the fifth inning. The Mets really need him to go at least seven tonight since they won't have an off day until Thursday.
One tactic the Mets should consider is bringing an extra arm into the bullpen for a few days from the minor leagues. The Mets could bring in a guy like Ryan Reid or Jeff Walters for a few days just to give a few guys some rest. The Mets could either swap him out with Jeurys Familia, who has pitched 5.1 innings over the last five days, or simply demote Andrew Brown and play with three outfielders for the Arizona series. Brown is likely going to be demoted anyway once Chris Young comes off the disabled list on Friday, so the move would kill two birds with one stone. Either way, the Mets will need a better pitching performance from their staff if they want to have a winning season in 2014.
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