The New York Mets are beginning to see the effects of strong starting pitching trickle down to the rest of their roster. In large part because Mets starters have lasted at least six innings in 17 of their last 18 starts, the team decided Wednesday to proceed with a shorthanded bullpen for the foreseeable future, perhaps even for the rest of the first half.
Rather than place injured outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the disabled list or keep Nieuwenhuis around and play with a shorthanded bench until he is ready to return, the Mets decided to designate left-handed reliever Justin Hampson for assignment and recall infielder Jordany Valdespin from Triple-A Buffalo. That move gave the Mets a six-man bench to go along with a six-man bullpen.
Though orthodox National League strategy dictates that a seven-man bullpen is ideal, the Mets can afford to play short given the strength of their starting staff. Chris Young gave the Mets another seven innings in a 9-2 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday, after Jon Niese went eight strong the night before.
Those two outings are just the latest examples. The rotation has pitched so many innings lately that over the weekend, manager Terry Collins wondered out loud if his relief corps was receiving enough work to be effective.
Not that the Mets are complaining. Their starters are pitching deep into games because they are succeeding. Over their last 18 starts, Young, Niese, R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana and Dillon Gee are a combined 9-7 with a 2.66 ERA. The rotation's season ERA stands at 3.39, putting the team third in the league behind the Nationals and Dodgers. Mets starters also rank second in baseball with 445 strikeouts.
Compare that to New York's bullpen, which coughed up six more runs Wednesday and ranks last in the majors with a 5.11 ERA.