Corey Oswalt‘s start this afternoon carried a little more weight the minute his chances at supplanting Jason Vargas in the rotation first became a conversation. Now under a microscope as a potential asset in the long-run, Oswalt did everything but pitch like a spot-starter today. His final line read one earned run, only one strikeout, but also just two hits and no walks allowed, and 68% strikes thrown.
Naturally, with the performance Oswalt turned in, the bullpen would stumble and drop the game late, as the Mets would wind up falling in a 6-1 final to wrap up the first half. Nonetheless, there were elements in today’s loss that were just as painful as they were controllable, avoidable, and mishandled – the starkest culprit being manager Mickey Callaway‘s puzzling decision to pull Oswalt at the end of the fifth inning.
The decision to switch pitchers had nothing to do with pitch count; Oswalt was at just 59 pitches. And as the box score will demonstrate loud and clear, Oswalt’s exit had nothing to do with effectiveness (or lack thereof). Having thrown 41 of his 59 pitches for strikes, the rookie retired his final 11 hitters in a row. His 12-pitch third inning was the longest frame and, even then, saw three batters come up and all ground into outs. The lone inning in which Washington managed to score off Oswalt, despite beginning with two singles, was still mitigated by two double-play grounders, the latter of which actually went down as such.
Oswalt showed a lot of moxie against the top of the Nationals’ order in the fourth inning, inducing a flyout to win a ten-pitch at-bat against Trea Turner and following up by striking out Juan Soto with a changeup that never wavered.
Instead, the Mets lifted Oswalt in favor of a pinch-hitter with Jose Reyes at third base and two men out in a 1-1 tie. Callaway, desperate to give his team a lead, was willing to roll the dice and wring four innings out of his bullpen:
“It really came down to us trying to score runs in that inning,” Callaway conceded in the press conference after the game. “We had a chance to score, and if [Amed] Rosario gets the sac fly, Oswalt probably hits and then gets to pitch another inning.”
There’s little merit to any argument against choosing Dom Smith to bat for the pitcher when the intent is to score runs. However, there’s more than enough sense in prioritizing an opportunity to expose a young starter to competitive situations. Callaway clearly didn’t see it, and whether or not it hurt the Mets’ chances at sealing a sweep, it was remarkably counterproductive.
Nobody is asking that a manager treat a game with an intent to aid a rebuild, because ultimately, Callaway’s job is to help the team win the game at hand. Even then, the decision to dispatch anybody on that bench to try bringing home a run – at the expense of a fledgling, flourishing starter, no less – had next to no shot at working out. Matt den Dekker remains hitless in his first 11 at-bats as a Met this year, Ty Kelly is 1-for-9, and Kevin Plawecki, as the backup catcher, had to be kept on retainer.
What’s more, entrusting this bullpen with either a tie game or one-run lead isn’t ideal in any way, shape, or form. Stretching out this sort of investment across four innings, even if the objective is to give arms exposure, is a bad idea, even more so considering a developing starter fighting for a job becomes the sacrificial lamb. Hopefully, the Mets have the backbone to start Oswalt again. Leaving him hanging would turn today’s bad idea into next week’s embarrassing personnel decision in a season defined by such.