Mets turn to new manager Mickey Callaway for pitching fix

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, left, poses with newly signed Mets third baseman Todd Frazier, center, and Mets owner Jeff Wilpon after the former New York Yankees player signed with the Mets, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in New York. Frazier reportedly signed a two-year deal, finalized on Wednesday. The contract calls for Frazier to be paid $8 million this year and $9 million in 2019. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK (AP) By the end of last season, the New York Mets’ vaunted pitching staff was broken. So they brought in rookie manager Mickey Callaway as Mister Fix-it.

The former Cleveland Indians guru begins his first managerial job at any level next week when New York opens spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The primary task for Callaway and first-year Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland: rebuild the same rotation with their own set of tools.

Callaway, the lauded pitching coach of a highly successful group in Cleveland, has already hinted at implementing unorthodox tactics such as summoning his closer in the middle innings and occasionally using six starters. He plans to keep the brittle arms sharp with throwing and conditioning programs.

”Our season is going to turn on the health of our pitching,” general manager Sandy Alderson said last month. ”If we have a reasonably healthy season out of our pitching, particularly our starting pitching, we’re going to be pretty good.”

New York rode Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and closer Jeurys Familia to the 2015 World Series, then followed that up with a 2016 playoff berth despite a string of significant injuries. Both years, the Mets ranked among the top four teams in ERA.

But everything unraveled last season when Syndergaard, Harvey and Familia went down along with slugger Yoenis Cespedes and starters Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, to name a few.

Perhaps even more alarming, the oft-injured Harvey, Matz and Wheeler were largely ineffective when they did pitch, turning three-fifths of a once-imposing projected rotation into a major question mark moving forward. New York finished with a 5.01 ERA that ranked 28th out of 30 clubs.

The fourth-place Mets ended up trading away veterans during the summer and spiraling to 70-92 before big changes were made.

Callaway, 42, replaced 68-year-old manager Terry Collins. Longtime pitching coach Dan Warthen was fired in favor of Eiland, who has held that position for World Series champions in 2009 (New York Yankees) and 2015 (Kansas City). Head athletic trainer Ray Ramirez also was let go, and the Mets later hired Jim Cavallini as director of performance and sports science.

Now, they hope Callaway can turn his Indians expertise into the magic touch for New York.

”They were very, very adamant about certain things when it came to preparation and recovery and just taking care of yourself in general,” said outfielder Jay Bruce, who re-signed with the Mets this offseason after they traded him to AL Central champion Cleveland last August. ”I expect Mickey to bring a lot of new ideas and things that make sense for the organization.”

Some things to watch for as the Mets begin spring training:

NEW LOOK: Free agent third baseman Todd Frazier signed a two-year contract, solidifying a position that’s been uncertain since captain David Wright got injured. The popular Frazier, a two-time All-Star who ended last season with the crosstown Yankees, brings power and positive energy. He’s already a hometown favorite after winning the 1998 Little League World Series with nearby Toms River, New Jersey. The move also bumped Asdrubal Cabrera back to second base.

ROOKIES TO WATCH: Although 22-year-old touted prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith exhausted their rookie eligibility last season, eyes will certainly be on them this spring. Both youngsters showed flashes last year but struggled overall. The athletic Rosario, who must develop some plate discipline, is the expected starter at shortstop, with mentor Jose Reyes back as possible insurance. Smith, who lost weight this winter, might need to beat out 35-year-old newcomer Adrian Gonzalez (back injury last season) at first base.

THEY’RE SET: Provided they stay healthy, the Mets should be in good shape at the corner outfield spots with Cespedes and Bruce. Add in Frazier and that’s a dangerous righty-lefty-righty combination that puts thunder in the middle of the lineup. New York hopes to get All-Star bopper Michael Conforto (shoulder surgery) back in center sometime around May 1, which could round out a very productive outfield.

THEY’RE NOT: The lineup lacks speed and a natural leadoff hitter, unless the potential early platoon of Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares in center can get on base enough to fill that bill. Travis d’Arnaud, with his .293 on-base percentage and suspect arm, remains a question mark at catcher.

ON DECK: Tim Tebow will be in big league camp as a non-roster invite. The former NFL quarterback and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner batted .226 with eight homers, 52 RBIs and 126 strikeouts in 126 games last year at two levels of Class-A ball. The 30-year-old outfielder is prepping for his second pro baseball season.

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