FLUSHING, NY – Mets general manager Omar Minaya walked into the team’s palatial home clubhouse inside Citi Field for the first time Thursday. One day after introducing free-agent pickup Francisco Rodriguez as the new closer, the GM presented the second part of his retooled bullpen, appearing with J.J. Putz in what the organization hopes will be the first of many good moments in the new ballpark.
Putz, acquired in a three-team, 12-player trade, was Seattle’s closer from 2006 until his move to Queens. The right-hander, who turns 32 in February, racked up 91 saves the past three years for the Mariners, said serving as the set-up man was not the ideal situation but insisted he won’t have any problems protecting leads for Rodriguez.
“I’m fine with the role,” Putz said. “The bottom line is that I want to win. I haven’t had the chance to do that in Seattle. To come to a team that’s built to win right now, I’ll pitch in the sixth, seventh; whatever it takes to get us a championship.”
Putz compiled a 3.08 ERA in six seasons in Seattle, going 22-15 with 101 saves. Minaya acquired the 6-5, 220-pound hurler in a deal that jettisoned Aaron Heilman, Endy Chavez and Joe Smith.
In playing his entire career in the AL West and
facing K-Rod as an opponent in Anaheim, Putz said he is happy to be a teammate of the record-setting closer. Putz admitted the situation is not ideal for someone used to closing, though he said he is looking forward to backing up Rodriguez, who set Major League Baseball’s single-season save records with 62 for the Angles last season.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to watch him on the other side anymore, because he killed us.” Putz said. “He’s a lot of fun to watch. He’s been as dominate as anyone in this game the last few years. He’s not a bad guy to have to set-up for, I guess.”
Ribcage and elbow injuries limited Putz to just 47 games last season, though the Trenton, Michigan native has logged a career 337 strikeouts in 323 innings. He is signed through 2009 and the Mets hold an $8.6 million option for 2010 with a $1 million buyout.
“Everything feels great,” Putz said. “I’ve been throwing for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been working out since November. Everything feels good and I’m ready to go.”
He owns a career 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and offered brief scouting report to Mets fans unfamiliar with his work following his years pitching on the West Cost.
“I’m a high energy guys when I’m out
there,” Putz said. “A power pitcher; and my out pitch is my split finger.
“It wasn’t the ideal situation. I really like closing. But I’m just going to take it an inning earlier, so it’s not going to be that big of an adjustment.”
Putz said he is healthy following injuries last season. The Mets had a “Welcome, J.J.” sign on the centerfield screen during his photo session with Minaya and COO Jeff Wilpon. Next to Citi Field, the demolition of Shea Stadium continued, and Minaya said the change to a new facility will also lead to a change in results at the end of games. The Mets blew 29 saves in 2008, with only Seattle and St. Louis (31) racking up a higher number.
“Last year was a year when we had difficulties at the end of the game,” Minaya said. “This year, by adding Rodriguez, by adding J.J., we feel very good about our team. We’re excited about it.”