PORT ST. LUCIE — Mickey Callaway is a believer. The Mets’ new manager held his first official press conference of spring training Tuesday and his confidence in the team he has been handed is high. Specifically, the pitching staff, coming off years of injuries and falling short of expectations, has Callaway believing that “something special” can happen for the Mets in 2018.
“I’ve got to sit there and watch bullpens in the last week and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Callaway, who before taking over as Mets skipper was the pitching coach in Cleveland for five seasons. “The amount of very good arms and quality stuff we have in this Mets organization, I promise you nobody else has that. I have been around some pretty good arms and this is the best group of arms and stuff that I’ve ever seen, from top to bottom. It’s really amazing. Dave Eiland and I are coming in and are like, ‘This is unbelievable.’”
For six years, since Matt Harvey made his major-league debut, Mets fans have believed in the rotation built on the potential and progression of Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard.
Yet, because of injuries we have yet to see that premiere rotation roll for a full season.
So Callaway and Eiland, a pitching coach on two World Series teams, were brought in in large part to help bring that dream to reality.
Callaway will emphasize the team’s expectations that pitchers maintain their preparation and routines by holding his first meeting Wednesday morning in the team’s weight room before the first formal workout. He believes holding the starters accountable in this way will be how he and Eiland can guide these arms — and the Mets — into a contender right away.
“If we do not do things, it’s going to be on me,” Callaway said. “The front office has gotten us the players. The coaching staff is the best coaching staff in the big leagues. You sit there and talk to these guys and they are going to hold guys accountable for what they do. We’re going to implement routine and structure. Every player I talk to, all they want to do is win. They want to go out and do whatever it takes. When you get a group like that, you can do something special. If we don’t do something special with the group we have in place, it’s going to be on the leadership of that.”
Well, those who have watched Mets seasons derailed by pitching problems the past two years are entitled to be a little more skeptical at this point.
DeGrom, the Mets’ best and most consistent starter over the past three years, is rightfully talking about competing for a Cy Young this year. Syndergaard missed most of the season last year with a torn lat muscle but returned at the end of the season looking strong and having seemly learned a lesson about pushing too hard in his offseason workouts.
But the rest of the Mets’ so-called “unbelievable” rotation is still a question mark.
Harvey struggled coming back from 2016 Thoracic Outlet Surgery, his second major surgery in three years. Matz has struggled to stay healthy his entire career and Wheeler is finally feeling healthy after 2015 Tommy John surgery. The Mets also have Seth Lugo, who is pitching with a partially torn UCL, Robert Gsellman, who was not good last season, and Rafael Montero, who has never lived up to his promise, competing for spots.
Callaway hasn’t had to live through those down times. He said Tuesday he was impressed with Harvey, Wheeler and Matz, and is confident that they are on track.
“They all looked really good coming in. Throwing the ball where they wanted to. If anything, we’re having to pull them back a tad, saying, hey, don’t overdo it, we know you feel great,” Callaway said. “There are smiles on everyone’s faces because they’re coming in healthy and what I’ve seen so far has kind of blown me away and I’m excited to get to see these guys face hitters.
“I’ve never seen this collective group of arms in my life and I think that obviously there is reasons why everybody thinks this team is going to be very good coming into spring training,” Callaway said, “because of the arms that they have.”
Callaway is clearly already a believer, but the rest of us will probably just wait and see.