Welcome back to the Mets Beat newsletter! Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007, including the past 14 seasons full-time on the beat.
Although the Mets technically brought 62 players to big league Spring Training this year, they may as well have had 63. Almost every day, Nate Lavender made the short trip over from the Minor League side to “back up” the pitching staff. If someone else went shorter than expected and the Mets needed to fill innings, Lavender’s job was to pitch.
Through that process, Lavender went from a little-known 14th-round Draft pick to one of the more buzzworthy relievers in New York’s system. Appearing in five spring games, Lavender caught the eye of manager Buck Showalter, who watched him throw 4 1/3 shutout innings. He used his time on that side of camp wisely, chatting up veterans and learning a new changeup grip from fellow left-hander Brooks Raley.
Ultimately, Lavender emerged from the experience a better pitcher.
“I knew coming in that I’d be backing up, but I didn’t know that I’d be at like 23 of the 30 Spring Training games,” he said, laughing. “It’s a great environment to learn in and to get to throw in.”
The results have been apparent throughout the summer for Lavender, who began last season at Single-A St Lucie and has since jumped three levels to Triple-A Syracuse. In 40 games at the upper Minors, Lavender has produced a 2.75 ERA with 81 strikeouts over 52 1/3 innings. Much like Raley, he features reverse platoon splits, which stem from the low arm slot of his delivery, according to Triple-A pitching coach Kyle Driscoll.
“He’s been a fun one,” Driscoll said. “His compete level is his best quality. He goes out there, he wants the ball, and he just wants to beat the other guy. That’s something that can’t be undersold.”
It’s helped Lavender go from a low pick to the cusp of the Majors, even briefly appearing on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Mets prospects list earlier this year. Lavender’s promotion to the Majors now seems more like a “when” than an “if.”
Just don’t count him among those who are surprised. A history and political science major at the University of Illinois, Lavender spent years listening to people tell him “not to put all your eggs in one basket.”
“I put all my eggs in one basket,” he said, laughing. “This is what I want to do. I think that’s a decision I made in college. And if you’re going to do it, then give it all you’ve got.”
Because Lavender isn’t yet Rule 5-eligible, the Mets had little incentive to place him on the 40-man roster this September. But the left-hander should get a strong look next spring as a likely full-time member of big league camp. If he makes the most of it, as he has of his opportunities throughout the past two seasons, Lavender stands a chance of being in the Mets’ revamped Opening Day bullpen.
“Being drafted in the 14th round, technically by professional baseball standards, I’m probably not supposed to be in Triple-A right now,” he said. “But I think that’s a product of being able to dig a little bit deeper and compete with every pitch I throw out there, and basically simplify the game.”
Who holds the Mets record for career strikeout-to-walk ratio (minimum 500 innings)?
A) Bartolo Colon
B) Jacob deGrom
C) Bret Saberhagen
D) Noah Syndergaard
In retrospect, the evening of July 27 was the sharpest turning point of New York’s season. That night, the Mets dealt closer David Robertson to the Marlins for two prospects, precipitating a large-scale selloff of nearly every impending free agent on the roster.
Now in Miami, Robertson has a chance to help the Marlins to the playoffs for the first time in a non-pandemic season since 2003.
“I think if we can get in, we’ve got a good chance,” Robertson said of the Marlins, who sit a half game out of the final National League Wild Card spot. “Look at Philly last year. We weren’t the best team until the end, but we caught on fire, and we got in the playoffs, and were able to make a run all the way to the end. We just fell a little short.”
Robertson became part of that Philadelphia roster via a midseason trade from the Cubs. He has now pitched for five different clubs over the past three seasons.
It’s not by choice. When Robertson signed with the Mets last winter, he tried “to pick the team that was going to be the best,” specifically because he didn’t want to uproot his family midseason.
“It seemed like the Mets were a good fit for me,” Robertson said. “Things didn’t work out. Injuries right out of the gate. We didn’t put it together between the lines. The rest of the team didn’t. And I got moved.”
As for next year, the 38-year-old Robertson hopes to play again, but he won’t continue pitching just for the sake of doing so. Robertson, who doesn’t employ an agent, will retire unless he finds an offer that makes sense both for him and his Rhode Island-based family. Robertson does maintain a tight relationship with Mets general manager Billy Eppler, who is expected to stay in that role next year under David Stearns. But he stopped short of predicting a return to the Mets.
“If the opportunity’s right, if everything works in my favor, I’d probably take the opportunity,” Robertson said. “But if not, I’m not going to. It’s [like] that with any team that makes an offer, so we’ll just have to see.”
Whether representing his homeland in the World Baseball Classic or going deep in the Puerto Rico Series, Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor has always been proud of his Puerto Rican heritage. The four-time All-Star and Platinum Glove winner’s passion for his roots is featured in a video released Tuesday by New Balance.
“I always look back at myself running around the streets in Puerto Rico: It’s my roots,” Lindor said. “It’s where I learned to play the game. Puerto Ricans are people that have passion for every single thing they do when they put their minds to it.”
Lindor stepped up his game for Puerto Rico during the World Baseball Classic in March, hitting .450 with a triple, five RBIs and six runs scored in five games. But even when he’s not on a global stage, the native of Caguas, P.R., finds nightly reminders of his heritage from the home fans in Queens.
“Whenever I go up to Citi Field and there's so many Puerto Rican flags, it’s everything -- it reminds me of where I come from,” Lindor said. “I’m living the life I always dreamed of. ... I always tell myself, ‘Embrace every moment. Enjoy the ride.’”
THIS WEEK IN METS HISTORY
Sept. 20, 1973: Ron Hodges hit a walk-off single in the 13th inning at Shea Stadium to move the Mets within half a game of first place with eight to play. The Mets wound up winning seven consecutive games over the Pirates, Cardinals and Expos during that stretch, jumping from fourth place to first on their way to a playoff berth and the National League pennant.
Over his nine seasons in New York, deGrom struck out 5.3 times as many batters as he walked to break Saberhagen’s franchise record. (Max Scherzer struck out 5.4 times as many batters as he walked with the Mets but didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify.)
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