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C.J. Nitkowski: Mets have chance to change how relief pitchers are used

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The former relief pitcher suggests the Mets abandon the closer role.

Rich Schultz

Former major league relief pitcher C.J. Nitkowski—who pitched for the Mets and seven other teams—writes at Fox Sports that the 2014 Mets have the opportunity to change the way relief pitchers are used in baseball.

In his piece, Nitkowski suggests the Mets abandon the role of closer, something the sabermetrically-inclined segment of the baseball universe has long supported. In short, the most important situations in baseball games don't always happen in the ninth inning, and teams should use their best relief pitcher in those situations—regardless of the inning. He writes:

The combination of two young, strong right-handed relievers with wipeout stuff offers the Mets a unique opportunity to try what those in the advanced statistical community have only dreamed about, not having a designated closer and using your best arms to get the biggest outs. Even if that means pitching more than one inning.

Those two young relievers are Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia, both of whom have been impressive, particularly lately. Nitkowski mentions that while relief pitchers like to have a defined role to get comfortable in a bullpen, they might not feel that way if they had been conditioned differently as younger pitchers. So he suggests the Mets mold Mejia and Familia as high-leverage relief pitchers ready to pitch at any point in a given game.

It would be a pleasant surprise if the Mets were to eschew bullpen convention and try something new, but it's hard to imagine that will actually be the case. It seems that Mejia is the team's closer so long as he is available, though Terry Collins did call upon him for a two-inning save last week.

If anything, it seems that Mejia's strengths—dominating opposing hitters the first time he sees them in a game—and weaknesses—not being able to pitch several consecutive games—could effectively give the Mets an unorthodox bullpen. They just might not be setting out to reformat the way major league teams use relief pitchers.