PORT ST. LUCIE – If spring training is all about getting the kinks out, the Mets bullpen met those expectations on Saturday.
Closer Edwin Diaz debuted donning a Mets uniform in New York’s 8-7 loss to the Astros at First Data Field.
Diaz took the mound in the sixth inning slightly amped up for his first spring training appearance. The 24-year-old walked the first two batters he faced, then found his rhythm by inducing a flyout and striking out the final hitter of the frame.
“I feel great. Ready to go,” Diaz said. “I have to keep working on a couple things mechanically but my arm feels great today.”
The Mets rolled out Saturday what will likely be the back-end of their regular season bullpen.
Justin Wilson, the Mets’ late-offseason relief signing, passed the baton to veteran Jeurys Familia, who transferred the ball to Diaz. Wilson is expected to be the Mets’ seventh-inning guy, Familia will get the eighth and Diaz is the obvious closer.
Both Wilson and Familia, though, looked understandably rusty in their respective one-inning appearances. Wilson entered in the fourth and gave up Houston’s only home runs of the game to A.J. Reed and Derek Fisher. He struck out one batter before walking off the mound.
Familia, much like Diaz, opened his frame with a walk. Though it took him longer to find a cadence after hitting Alex Bregman on the arm as the second batter Familia faced. The 29-year-old gave up back-to-back singles, allowing a pair of runs, then whiffed two batters before wrapping up the fifth inning.
Despite the choppy outings, manager Mickey Callaway was pleased with what he saw from his back-end relievers.
“Out there healthy, pitching in their first outings, you couldn’t be happier,” Callaway said. “The stuff’s there with all three of them, and that’s what you’re looking for at this point. You kind of throw the numbers out the door. You’re just hoping they get through it healthy and they feel good in their first outing.”
LINEUP COMING ALIVE
Michael Conforto crushed his first homer of the spring on Saturday, and it didn’t come easy. He worked the count against Astros ace Justin Verlander before dumping one over the right-field wall. Wilson Ramos did Conforto one better, powering his first grand slam in a Mets uniform to put the Mets ahead in the fifth inning Saturday.
Callaway said Ramos has all the attributes of a clutch hitter that can drive in runs in high-pressure situations. Ramos is short and quick to the ball while pulling the opposite way. He makes it harder for pitchers to find a zone with which they’re comfortable.
“That’s what we feel is going to be the middle of our lineup, what we had out there today,” Callaway said. “And they produced. So I’m excited to see that for more times than just one. They did a great job today.”
ALONSO GETS FIRST TASTE OF ELITE PITCHING
After a promising start to spring training in his first few Grapefruit League at-bats, rookie Pete Alonso faced Verlander and came up empty-handed. The first baseman finished the game going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on Saturday.
Callaway said he thinks it’s important for Alonso to face pitchers like Verlander as early and often as he can. It allows the rookie to take a peek at how quality pitchers might set him up while working their arsenals against him.
“I think Pete’s going to be OK because he has such a short, quick swing,” Callaway said. “He doesn’t have a lot of movement and he’s not committing too early.”
D’ARNAUD SCHEDULED FOR SPRING DEBUT
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud checked off the final box of his recovery from Tommy John surgery and will play in his first game as a designated hitter against the Cardinals on Sunday. D’Arnaud underwent the surgery in April last season and has not appeared in a game since. Callaway said his first game behind the plate is still undetermined.