Trevor Williams, Tommy Hunter prove that transition from starter to reliever is possible

The Bergen Record
The Bergen Record

MIAMI — Tommy Hunter believes that if a pitcher can start games and do well, he can thrive in any role.

The Mets must conclude the same thing.

As the Mets maneuver through injuries to Drew Smith (lat strain) and Trevor May (lower humerus stress reaction) in the bullpen, they have turned to a couple of once-capable starters in Hunter and Trevor Williams to make their impact from the bullpen.

And with Jacob deGrom's return imminent, Buck Showalter said on Friday that the team is also planning to use Tylor Megill, who has started 27 games over the last two years, out of the bullpen when he returns from a right shoulder strain.

For Hunter, the transition from starting pitcher to reliever came nine years ago in Baltimore. The 36-year-old right-hander spun that adjustments into a successful 15-year career. He's proven it's possible to make the switch.

Now, a trio of former starters are likely to join forces to try and bolster the Mets' bullpen until perhaps some reinforcements arrive.

"There’s no such thing as a leash. You’re not working through it," Hunter said. "You make sure you build a relationship with the guy next to you because he’s going to have to come in and save your (butt) every once in a while. And you do the same for him. That’s the part of the bullpen that’s special. You build these relationships and you root for each other."

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Williams said that last year he felt like he was learning on the fly after being shipped to the Mets in a deal with Javier Baez.

Eighty of Williams'previous 81 appearances before coming over had been in a starter's role. Suddenly, he was brought in to provide depth to the Mets' pitching corps. While Williams had been accustomed to game-planning for two or three turns through an opponent's lineup, suddenly he had to be ready to come in at any time.

"When you’re coming in later in the game, you’re getting a feel for what those hitters are doing," Williams said. "You’re watching at them at the beginning of the game. Are they trying to hit the ball the other way? Are they coming unglued on a certain pitch?

"The hitters have their plan against the starters and against a reliever, so you kind of have to go to your strengths immediately regardless."

Williams has made eight starts and 11 relief appearances this season, pitching to a 2-5 record with a 3.38 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in one of the most unsettled roles on the Mets pitching staff. Showalter called him one of the most versatile members of the team.

Showalter said that one of the biggest transitions between starting and relieving is learning how each pitcher recovers and managing the preparation for each outing.

And the Mets are still weighing how Williams recovers from one bullpen appearance to the next during his move to the bullpen.

"He ain’t scared," Showalter said. "He’s one of those guys that goes, ‘Here it is. Let’s go. Let’s see what you’ve got.’ He doesn’t ever go back to the hotel wishing he had been more trustworthy of himself."

In Buck, they trust

With Williams, who has consistently floated between starting and relief roles, Showalter has been transparent about when he expects him to pitch.

"I think it’s an open communication with everybody, what expectations are and what your role’s going to be for that day," Williams said. "I’m thankful for him because I’m not guessing every day. When you’re not guessing you’re prepared for certain spots in the game"

Showalter is very careful with his relievers. When Smith came through a side session and felt a little tight but said that he could still pitch, Showalter erred on the side of caution. It turned out to be something more serious.

The Mets manager has a calculated approach for how he manages the bullpen. That has allowed Williams to be comfortable in his new role.

"You gain a lot of respect from bullpen guys with (Showalter) at the top," Hunter said. "He makes it pretty easy on following a game plan and keeping everybody up to date, communicating when he’s going to try to use you, get you in. He’s pretty good at it. He’s got it down. You like it at as a bullpen guy because you can be ready for a situation when it calls."

Megill's turn

Megill shot out of the gate in his second major league season.

He made the Opening Day start for the Mets, touching 99 mph with his fastball. He opened with 11⅔ scoreless innings. But that hard-throwing style took a toll, and he hit the injured list in May with right biceps tendinitis.

Now with deGrom on the verge of returning and Megill beginning throwing from 90 feet in his return from the 60-day IL, there will be a new role for him around the corner.

"It’s just a matter of making sure you’re ready," Williams said. "He’s not going to be running around with his head chopped off in the bullpen. He’s a guy that controls his emotions and he knows what he needs to do to get his body right."

The Mets appeared to be trying out David Peterson in a relief role last week, but the left-hander allowed three earned runs across 1⅓ innings. Now, he is back stretching out for spot start duty in Class AAA Syracuse.

Hunter believes that Megill will be suited to make the transition with his strong three-pitch repertoire, including a fastball, changeup and slider.

"He’s a perfect candidate to be able to jump in and do some damage down there and really solidify and help everyone out," Hunter said. "He’s going to be OK. He’s got pretty good stuff. He’s got a repeatable delivery. It’s going to be easy for him. He’s going to have a lot of success whatever he does."

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