NEW YORK – Steven Matz is moving to the bullpen for now as the New York Mets again overhaul a major problem area with a flurry of roster moves.
Veteran relievers Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan were reinstated from the injured list before Tuesday night’s Subway Series opener against the New York Yankees at Citi Field. In addition, reserve infielder Luis Guillorme was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse.
In corresponding moves, the fourth-place Mets optioned four inexperienced relievers to Syracuse: right-handers Brooks Pounders, Chris Flexen, Stephen Nogosek and Chris Mazza.
New York’s bullpen began the day leading the majors with 21 blown saves in 40 chances, ranked second with 19 losses and was 28th out of 30 teams in ERA at 5.64. The relievers posted a big league-worst 7.53 ERA in June and were 3-12 with an 8.05 ERA since May 27.
Matz has made one relief appearance in his entire professional career – back in 2015 at Triple-A Las Vegas. The 28-year-old lefty is 5-6 with a 4.95 ERA in 16 starts this year and 25-32 with a 4.15 ERA in 87 starts over five major league seasons with the Mets.
“This could be a temporary thing,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We have a lot of off days coming up and we don’t need a fifth starter. So, something outside the box that may help us and our bullpen effectiveness.
“I don’t think that this is a knock on him. It’s more him coming to us and us thinking, oh, this sounds like it could help us out in the meantime and then we’ll figure out the rotation after the All-Star break.”
New York has two off days this week, making it simple to skip a starter in the rotation as potential trade chip Zack Wheeler gets a pair of outings in before the break.
Callaway said he expects Matz to return to a starting role after the break – but did not completely commit to that. The Mets have scheduled off days on the first three Mondays following the break.
“Anything can happen. We have a long time before we need a fifth starter,” the manager explained.
“He’s one of our top five starting pitchers at this point. But like I said, we will do anything as an organization to try and win games,” Callaway added. “We’ll adjust if we need to.”
Matz pitched only two innings in his most recent start Saturday against Atlanta, exiting after a 70-minute rain delay.
His move to the bullpen is somewhat curious if only because he has a long history of injuries and has struggled mightily in the first inning this year.
“You never know. The routine will be totally different. The lineup will be totally different,” Callaway said. “He’s been having struggles in the first and it probably gets in his head a little bit. This is a different role, so he might not feel that pressure. There’s all kinds of reasons that it could or couldn’t happen. The bottom line is he’s in the bullpen and we’re going to find out.”
And the history of injuries?
“We’ll take care of him as far as that goes, and he’s been healthy for a while now. I think those health issues are far behind him. He recovers probably better than any pitcher on our staff now,” Callaway said. “So I think he’ll be able to handle this, especially if we give him the right days off and things like that.”
Familia has been ineffective since returning to the Mets as a free agent last offseason. He signed a $30 million, three-year contract to be the primary eighth-inning setup man for closer Edwin Diaz, but is 2-1 with a 7.81 ERA.
The right-hander went on the injured list June 18 for the second time this season with a Bennett Lesion, essentially a bone spur, in his pitching shoulder. He made two minor league rehab appearances and struck out four in 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
“Familia’s healthy again and looks like he’s turned the corner on his effectiveness,” Callaway said. “All the reports are that he looks great.”
Wilson signed a $10 million, two-year contract with the Mets as a free agent last winter and is 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA. He had been sidelined since May 8 with left elbow soreness and made four rehab appearances in the minors, striking out eight in four innings.
Avilan, a Mets newcomer this season as well, is 1-0 with a 9.28 ERA. He had been out since May 4, also with a sore left elbow, and struck out six in four minor league rehab appearances covering 4 1/3 innings.
“We got these guys for a reason, and we intend to use them for the reasons we went and got them in the first place. It’s good to have these guys back. These are the guys we knew we could win with, and it looks like we’ve got two of them totally healthy,” Callaway said. “We’re going to put them in the roles that we acquired them for and go out and have a better bullpen. That’s what this team needs.”
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