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Reliever Dedniel Nuñez among latest Mets to step up in bigger roles

Despite a bullpen that has gone through hell and back lately, the Mets may have found a diamond in the rough with right-hander Dedniel Nuñez who pitched 1.1 scoreless innings on Tuesday night as the first reliever out of the bullpen against the Washington Nationals.

With his team hanging on to a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, Nuñez came in with the tying run at the plate and a run already in off starter David Peterson. It was a big moment in the game and Nuñez promptly struck out Lane Thomas with a high 97 mph fastball.

Nuñez told reporters after the game that the pitch was exactly where he wanted it.

“In that moment I just thought ‘I’m gonna beat you’,” he said through an interpreter.

It’s the kind of mentality that the Mets desperately need in their bullpen – one that struggled mightily in the month of May, pitching to a 4.99 ERA and blowing eight saves.

Nuñez, a 27-year-old rookie who turns 28 on June 5, now has a 2.31 ERA in 11.2 innings across appearances this season. He’s also struck out 19 batters during that span and has walked just three which earned him the right to enter bigger situations like the one he pitched in on Tuesday night.

“Great stuff. Heavy fastball,” manager Carlos Mendoza said about his right-hander. “The way he attacks the hitters, obviously now he’s got that splitter and a slider. But just his stuff overall looks pretty heavy from the dugout, [and] the hitters you could tell by the swings they’re taking off his pitches. He’s moving in the right direction.”

The Dominican Republic native whom the Mets signed to a one-year, $740,000 contract during the offseason finished off his outing on Tuesday by retiring the side in order in the eighth inning to set up Reed Garrett in the ninth. So far, Nuñez has been worth all $740,000.

He, along with Peterson’s 6.2 innings, was much needed after New York expended many of its arms over the last few games. And considering the revolving door that has taken place in the Mets’ bullpen this season, getting any kind of consistency from a pitcher is huge.

And Mendoza’s trust on Tuesday was not only big for the team, but Nuñez as well.

“I appreciate the trust that he’s put into me at this point,” Nuñez said of his skipper. “It’s like the max level of trust that he’s put in, but it’s also the way the team has been positive, the energy that the team has been displaying out on the field. It kind of puts you in the position where you’re not thinking that much and you’re just going out there to try and help the team as much as you possibly can.”

Despite more than a few heartbreaking losses recently, the Mets have now won two in a row and will go for the sweep against the Nationals on Wednesday with Luis Severino on the mound. They still have a long way to go, but perhaps Nuñez can help them get there.

He’s certainly earned at least a look with the way he’s been pitching.

“He came in with runners on base today and attacked the zone,” Mendoza said. “Control the things you need to control and that’s execute pitches, stay on the attack, get strike one, get ahead of hitters and put hitters away and he’s doing that.”

As for being used in a bigger role, Nuñez relished the moment and said “it’s much more fun.”

“It kind of brings out that energy, but also puts you in that focus that you’re a winner in that situation,” he said.