When Johnson Calls, the Bullpen Has Answer
Trotting out to the pitching mound in the late innings of a close game, New York Mets’ Manager Davey Johnson can raise either hand with confidence.
In the bullpen awaiting his signal are both right-hander Jesse Orosco and left-hander Roger McDowell. Except for those games Dwight Gooden starts, Johnson usually gives one of them the late call.
“We’re not interested in complete games--just wins,” says Mets’ pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. “We want a starter to get us to the short man. If he does that, then he’s done his job.”
Through the first 26 games of the season, Gooden had pitched three of New York’s four complete games. The Mets next three starters--Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez--compiled a 12-0 record between them but completed just one game.
Orosco and McDowell, New York’s main stoppers for the past two years, have performed exceptionally in the late innings, helping the Mets jump to a 21-6 start this season.
Orosco did not give up a run in his first 11 relief appearances. In 15 innings, he earned six saves and allowed six hits, walking 10 and striking out 15.
“I’m not doing anything differently than last year, I’m just getting guys out,” said Orosco, who finished last season at 8-6, with a 2.73 earned-run average and 17 saves. “Its a long way to go and 15 strong innings now can quickly turn into 15 bad ones.
“I’m glad I’m off to the kind of start I am, but I’d be confident anyway,” Orosco added. “Even when you’re going bad, you’ve got to believe in yourself.”
Johnson’s trust in his bullpen tandem has allowed him to pinch-hit for his starters even when they are pitching well. In a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on May 12, Johnson pulled Fernandez after he pitched seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out 10.
“Most of our pitchers are young and throw a lot of pitches,” said McDowell, who came in and pitched two innings of no hit relief that night to improve to 3-0. “That’s why Davey takes them out a lot.”
Through six starts, Fernandez was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA, although he had yet to go the distance. Ojeda, who got off to a 5-0 start, compiled a 1.49 ERA through four starts and two relief appearances, but completed just one game.
“If I handed Bobby the ball and told him I wanted nine innings from him, I know he could do it,” Stottlemyre says. “It’s just not what we need from him right now.”
McDowell, although shaky in his first few appearances this year, has settled into the role of stopper. After giving up five earned runs in two innings against the Cincinnati Reds on May 2, he did not allow a run in his next five games. Between May 3 and May 14, he gave up three hits over 8 innings of relief.
“Jesse and I are each going to pitch about 60 times this year,” said McDowell, who was 6-5 with 17 saves and a 2.83 ERA last year in his rookie season. “We’re going to have some bad outings at some point.
“But not many teams have a righty and a lefty who can come in and shut the other guys down.”