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Mets bullpen arms stepping up in absence of injured Trevor May

There’s at least one reliever the Mets expect to strengthen the bullpen before their eventual acquisitions at the trade deadline.

Trevor May (stress reaction on humerus) is progressing through his rehab sans setbacks. The Mets’ setup man is hoping to rejoin the relief corps either just before or right after the All-Star break in July (18-21).

May has been sidelined for six weeks and three days with an injury that many expected to completely alter the makeup of the Mets bullpen. Indeed, May’s absence meant every other Mets reliever would have that extra pressure to put up zeroes. But, the on-paper results from the relief corps have been solid.

The Mets bullpen owns a 3.65 ERA since May hit the injured list on May 3. While that average is a far cry from Atlanta’s 2.66 bullpen ERA in that same time span, the Amazin’s relief corps has posted an ERA that’s third-best in the National League.

“I betcha right when I’m ready to come back, that role is going to be something I’m going to have to earn again,” May said on Saturday. “Historically, that’s where I’ve thrived, when there’s a fruit I gotta go up and get, that drives me to be better and not be complacent. I would much rather be that way than be handed something that’s given.”

While Edwin Diaz (2.05 ERA, 50 strikeouts, 13 saves) is getting the attention he deserves for having an All-Star season, Drew Smith and Adam Ottavino have quietly been key reasons the Mets bullpen hasn’t collapsed without May.

Smith (2.20 ERA, 26 relief appearances) has allowed just one run in his last eight outings and 9.2 innings entering Saturday. Across his 37 batters faced in that span, he struck out 10 and walked two. Smith has limited opposing batters to a .178 average this season.

Ottavino (2.92 ERA, 28 relief appearances) has also allowed just one earned run with 16 strikeouts in his last 17 games and 15 innings, good for 0.60 ERA in that span. The veteran reliever has been particularly successful on the road, posting a 0.79 ERA (one earned run in 11.2 innings) across 13 games away from Citi Field.

Overall, the Mets bullpen has a strikeouts per nine innings rate of 10.26, second in MLB. Mets relievers are holding opposing batters to a .224 average, good for fifth in the NL and 12th-best in MLB. In some ways, the Mets still live and die on how the bullpen is operating. The club’s record when the bullpen allows no runs is 24-5. The team’s record when the bullpen allows one or more runs is 19-18.

“I think we’ve been able to pass the load around,” manager Buck Showalter said of his bullpen since May went on the IL. “Stay out of the league leaders and things. Guys know they’re going to get an opportunity. They know they’re not going to go too long without pitching, and they’re not going to [pitch] too much. I think that you have to do the job in order to pass the load around.”

Showalter said it helps when relievers know their roles and are comfortable coming into high-leverage situations no matter the inning. Those roles will only continue to be cemented as the Mets approach the halfway point of the 2022 season. But the bullpen is also one area that will almost certainly be upgraded at the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

While the Mets are looking forward to getting May back in the ‘pen, the club is in need of a reliable lefty reliever to solidify the unit. Until then, the bullpen arms that have joined Showalter’s circle of trust are so far passing a difficult test with their setup man sidelined.

It helps, of course, that the Mets offense is giving the bullpen a cushion. The offense has scored the most runs (337) in the major leagues entering Saturday.

“One thing I’ve found through the years is if you ride a hot hand, that hot hand becomes a cold hand,” Showalter said of his relievers. “I think they know the respect we have for how hard it is to do their job. You want to get where the phone rings and nobody has to answer it.”

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