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Adam Ottavino embracing Mets’ closer role

New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino throws during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
New York Mets relief pitcher Adam Ottavino throws during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI — Adam Ottavino converted his 11th save of the season Monday night. It matched his career-high mark he set two years ago with the Boston Red Sox. This wasn’t what he anticipated when he re-upped with the Mets over the winter, but the 37-year-old right-hander has continually shown that he can pitch in just about any situation.

The Mets are hoping that some of their younger pitchers pick up on that ability and Ottavino is eager to help, having gained knowledge in his earlier years from following around starters like Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter on the St. Louis Cardinals and Matt Belisle and Rafael Bettencourt. He followed them around until they were “probably sick of” him.

“Part of my job on this team is to help the pitchers, especially the relievers, get their feet underneath them and understand what the job is at this level,” Ottavino recently told the Daily News. “I think it’s hard these days because on one hand, they know themselves better than we ever did when they get to the league. But they also have never really played to win.”

This is an often overlooked factor in development. The minor leagues provide a competitive atmosphere that acts as a proving ground for talent, but that atmosphere is somewhat controlled. Innings are limited and at-bats are planned in advance. It’s very routine-oriented and it mimics the big leagues in that way, but the ultimate goal isn’t to win in the minor leagues, it’s to make it to the major leagues.

“It’s so much more geared towards development and they try not to overtax guys. Guys pitch on schedules and stuff. That’s not how it is here,” Ottavino said. “So part of my job is to kind of show them that side of it and help them with the inevitable struggles that come with being at the highest level. The mental stuff and just the routine stuff.”

Now that the end of the regular season is close, the Mets are prioritizing the development of their rookies and their younger players who are trying to establish themselves in the big leagues. However, the team has been adamant about maintaining competitive integrity. They aren’t tanking. They have pride and they plan to play with it by playing to win.

The Mets have mostly accomplished that. They’re 28-32 in the second half of the season. Their .467 second-half winning percentage is the same as their first (42-48), which shows that they’ve been able to stay on the same pace without all of the players they dealt away at the trade deadline. They’ve outscored opponents, 79-56, over their 16 games and they’ve embraced the role of spoiler.

This all bodes well moving forward into next season, but just how well is up for debate. Ottavino points to the fact that the majority of the club’s top talent is of the position player variety. The pitching pipeline hasn’t been flowing for a while now and that struggle has been well documented.

“It seems like we’ve got a lot of good position player prospects and you would you would hope that you’re gonna hit big on a few of those, and then then we have some supporting players also in that group,” Ottavino said. “But we don’t have enough pitching in the system. Starting pitching is the hardest thing to find. That’s probably next up on the talent hunt for the team.”

The cerebral Ottavino has been more than just a mentor for the Mets this season — he’s been an anchor in an unsteady bullpen. He’s pitched in several key situations.

With only one left-hander, Ottavino has been called on to face left-handed hitters in high-leverage innings and has held them to a .208 average. He’s been a go-to high-leverage arm pitching anywhere from the seventh to the ninth. After David Robertson was traded to the Miami Marlins before the deadline, Ottavino received the bulk of the save opportunities.

Going into Tuesday, he was 1-5 with a 2.87 ERA with 11 saves in 14 opportunities and 12 holds. Ottavino has a player option for 2024 for $6.75 million, $1 million less than what he made this season.

There is no question that Ottavino will be a key part of the Mets bullpen next season if he choses to exercise the option. The question is whether or not the Brooklyn native will, though it sounds like he’s leaning toward yes.

“I definitely want to be here,” Ottavino said. “But we got to see how the market shakes out. You’re not trying to sell yourself short, but I want to be here.”