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Mets' bullpen woes continue: ‘We need to find a way to close a game’

After starter Jose Quintana got just 12 outs on Sunday, the Mets’ bullpen was asked to pitch the final five frames and maintain a one-run lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field.

The combination of Dedniel Nunez, Danny Young, Reed Garrett and Adam Ottavino got them most of the way there by allowing just two hits while striking out nine in the process.

“Pretty good, stay on the attack, the way they used their pitches, got swing and misses,” said manager Carlos Mendoza after the game. “Reed Garrett getting ahead and then putting hitters away. And even Otto, we saw a 94 [mph fastball] for a strikeout, staying on the attack, using his pitches, I thought they were really, really good.”

Needing three outs to grab a series win to close out a tumultuous homestand, Mendoza turned to Jake Diekman to nail down his second save on the year in his third attempt.

But the left-hander surrendered a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Gabriel Moreno on a 2-2 fastball and then the go-ahead two-run homer to deep center field to Ketel Marte on a 2-2 sweeper. Two batters, two runs on 11 pitches, leading to the 5-4 defeat.

“You gotta be perfect, there,” Mendoza said. “I thought the bullpen, obviously, did a helluva job piecing it together all the way to the ninth inning when we couldn’t get the last three outs.”

About Diekman, the skipper added, “Two pitches pretty much cost him the game.”

On the double, Diekman said he “didn’t mind the pitch,” noting it was probably “two to three inches off the plate.”

“But he put really good wood on it,” he said before shrugging slightly. “Tip your hat there.”

The lefty continued: “I just don’t think I'm executing well enough in certain situations. The homer, if it’s two more inches in, it might be a swing [and] miss, it might be a double down the line, but they only score one so, it’s different…  I liked how everything moved today, it’s probably more of execution.”

Sunday marked the sixth time the Mets have lost when leading after eight innings since May 1, the most in the majors. No other team has more than two during that time.

On the season, the bullpen has posted a 3.92 ERA (17th in the MLB) and a 1.35 WHIP (22nd) over 220.1 innings on the year (12th most). But of late, everything seems to be going against them.

When asked about the struggles in May compared to a good start in April for the relievers, Diekman said that’s just how baseball goes.

“In the bullpen, you’re gonna pitch 10 times a month, so you’re gonna get 60 games a year. You’re gonna get 10 outings that stink, you’re gonna have 10 outings that are really good and 40 that you have to figure out,” he said. “Lately it might seem like we’re all having the 10 at the same time that aren’t very good.”

Overall, the 37-year-old said the recent struggles are just a year-to-year thing.

“You’re gonna have movement, you’re gonna have guys go on the IL, it’s just...” he said before shaking his head. “We’re all down there, we all know we can throw scoreless innings when we want to. But, yeah, I feel like every bullpen every year goes through, maybe a key guy goes down…”

The bullpen didn't get much help from the starter, who had his own disappointing day. Quintana said his frustration comes from missing his spots, his failure to go deep into the game – he threw 84 pitches in the first four innings and forced Mendoza to go to the bullpen early – and the club failing to close out the opportunities late.

"After the first inning, [it] put me in a bad position to run later in the game. I feel like it was a battle and I keep competing... I'm not happy with that kind of outing,” the starter said.

“When we really close, you see [we’ve been] three outs left to win games and we get that opportunity a couple times,” he said, adding, “we keep fighting and we need to find a way to close a game."

After grabbing the first two games of the series against Arizona to snap a 1-6 start to the homestand, Diekman said the clubhouse is “in a really good headspace," dampened by back-to-back defeats.

“We know split series, win series, that’s what we gotta do. But now all we’re worried about is tomorrow. Come out with good energy, play tomorrow and figure it out,” he said.

The Mets head off for three in Washington before flying to London for two games against Philadelphia.

A bright spot for the bullpen has been Nunez. The 27-year-old MLB debutant had three strikeouts in 1.1 innings as the first guy out of the ‘pen Sunday and now has 18 strikeouts through his first 10.2 big league innings over seven outings.

“He’s gonna continue to get opportunities,” Mendoza said. “Pretty good arm, the velo, the movement, throws strikes. He’s [got] a heavy fastball and he’s doing a really good job going multiple innings and getting out of some of the situations. But he’s been pretty impressive.”