When the New York Mets begin their annual winter task of building their bullpen, they’d be wise to consider three names instrumental in beating Miami last night at Citi Field.
Yes, Lucas Duda gets props for a three-run homer, Jon Niese pitched into the seventh, and Andrew Brown took advantage of a rare start by hitting a mammoth home run, but the Mets might not have won without Vic Black, Pedro Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins.
By definition, winning 4-3 is not a slam-dunk, but a study of perseverance and endurance. Those three carried the Mets to the end.
Hawkins has been solid all year in a set-up role, and despite his reservations, assumed the closer role when Bobby Parnell went down and excelled, picking up his ninth save with a 1-2-3 ninth highlighted by a classic punch-out of Giancarlo Stanton, who had already hit two homers in the game.
In a masterful display, Hawkins got ahead 0-and-2 with two inside fastballs. Stanton wouldn’t bite on two down-and-away sliders to even the count 2-and-2. But, fearless as usual, Hawkins blew away Stanton inside with a 94 mph. fastball.
At 40, most teams might consider Hawkins an afterthought in constructing a bullpen, but he still has the fastball plus the guile that can’t be measured by a radar gun.
Not only does he get the job done, but he’s an invaluable and calming influence to the younger relievers and in the clubhouse.
My favorite Hawkins moment came at mid-season when the Mets – including manager Terry Collins – danced around the Jordany Valdespin saga. However, Hawkins, a proud veteran, called it as he saw it and wouldn’t let the immature Valdespin off the hook.
Meanwhile, Feliciano doesn’t throw in the 90s, but is still an effective lefty specialist and last night closed the eighth by getting Christian Yelich on a grounder to second.
If used properly – which is to say sparingly and not wear him out – Feliciano is still a plus.
The Mets don’t know Parnell’s availability next year after undergoing neck surgery. They must assume they won’t have him, at least at the start.
They’ll need a closer and Black, who throws in the mid-90s, could emerge as the choice. In preparing for next season, Collins should use Black in as many pressure situations as possible.
Of course, the bullpen key for 2014 is Parnell. If healthy, the three could slot in behind him and GM Sandy Alderson’s bullpen reclamation would be halfway done.
The key to a strong bullpen is having quality starters capable of working deep into the game as Niese did last night. The fewer innings the bullpen works, the more effective.