Mets trio could turn a 2019 problem into a 2020 strength

PORT ST. LUCIE — Keep calm, Mets fans, and hope the bullpen big three perform this season like they did on Wednesday at Clover Park.

Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia and Edwin Diaz each pitched a hitless, shutout inning in the 7-3 win over the Cardinals.

This was a Jacob deGrom start. After so many bullpen failures in the past, the bullpen owes him big time in the regular season.

Changes are being made in the arsenal of the relievers. That’s key. The Mets want Diaz to throw his fastball up more in the zone, believing hitters will not catch up to his pitches like they did so many times during his first year as a Met when Diaz allowed an astounding 15 home runs.

The Mets want Familia (5.70 ERA last season) to use his secondary pitches to get outs and he did that Wednesday.

As for Betances, they just want the big right-hander to regain the All-Star form he once had with the Yankees before injuries hit.

Betances is always a spring training enigma, a slow starter, but there was an uptick in velocity Wednesday as he was in the 89-91 mph range, according to a scout in the ballpark. There is much room to improve, but that is a start.

Betances, 31, can be a calming influence on Diaz, 25, and that is vital.

“They were great,’’ Luis Rojas said of his big three. “Betances was more in the zone, and I thought he had a good feel for the breaking ball. The progression, you can see it from the last outing to this outing, the fastball had a little more zip.’’

“Slightly better,’’ Betances said. “A little rusty. I’m taking baby steps.’’

“Familia, the fastball is strong, it’s hard-sinking there, you could see it,’’ Rojas said. “But I’m really more pleased with the secondary stuff, how it’s playing. He’s coming back to his splitter. He is coming back to his slider. Behind in the count to [Yadier] Molina he threw back-to-back sliders [for a strikeout] to finish up that inning. That shows he’s got more weapons to go to.’’

Familia became much too predictable last season. Diaz, though, remains the giant question mark, but consider this telling comment from Rojas:

“He elevated with conviction today.’’

That’s what is all important for Diaz.

“With the feedback we get from our technology, he has good spin rate,’’ Rojas said. “He’s got good extension as well so his ball plays up. If he is able to throw that pitch with conviction and blend it at times, it’s going to give him more weapons.

“Elevate with conviction.’’

The elevated fastball will enable Diaz to stay away from the grooved fastball like the one Kurt Suzuki hit for a home run in that terrible September loss to the Nats or the slider that comes back over the plate, pitches opposing hitters crushed last season.

“Diaz can elevate and then use his slider for strikes, he threw it down and away to righties and down and in to lefties,’’ Rojas said.

Now you know the plan, and it will be up to Familia and Diaz to execute that plan.

“I was able to command my pitches today,’’ said Diaz, who likes what he sees in Betances and the guidance Betances offers. “I think he is looking really good, coming from last year when he wasn’t really able to pitch. He has a lot of good movement on his pitches, and day by day you can tell he is starting to progress more. I think he should be ready for Opening Day.

Diaz is expecting big things from his bullpen brothers.

“I think we showed today, we had three clean innings, and I think if we are able to do that on a consistent basis, I think we are going to be one of the best bullpens in the league,’’ he said.

“My locker is right next to Betances in the clubhouse, and he always tells me to just forget about what happened last year. You have some of the best stuff in the game,’’ Diaz said. “We’re all excited about it. Dellin is really calm, and that helps calm me down when I see him go into the game.’’

Keep calm Mets fans. The big three bullpen building blocks offered hope on Wednesday.

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