NEW YORK -- The back end of the bullpen has been a work in progress for the New York Mets, ever since the early April day they lost closer Bobby Parnell to an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery.
They can't say they've solved it yet, but after watching Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia record six-out and five-out saves in a 24-hour span, manager Terry Collins has reason to feel better about the late innings than he maybe has all season.
With Mejia unavailable after throwing 37 pitches in his two-inning save Tuesday night, and with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Vic Black also unavailable, Collins turned to Familia on Wednesday, calling on him to face Ike Davis representing the tying run with one out in the eighth inning and then leaving him in for the save in a 5-0 Mets win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The results were impressive, enough so that in his postgame comments, Collins suggested that he could use both Mejia and Familia to close games in the days to come.
"We've reached the point that [Familia] has got to be in the back end," Collins said. "He's got to be a late-inning guy."
The Mets bullpen has been transformed several times in the first two months of the season, first by Parnell's injury and then by ineffectiveness from Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth, two veterans who pitched poorly and were eventually released.
The difference now is that Mejia and Familia (both 24 years old) have earned their status by pitching well, and by displaying stuff worthy of pitching in the late innings of games.
"We've got some really good young power arms," David Wright said. "These guys have the ability to go out and dominate, shut the door on games."
Wright included Black in that mix, and Collins did the same. Black got four outs without allowing a run Tuesday, but also walked two batters.
Familia has had some command issues in the past, too, and has walked 12 in 24 2/3 innings this season. But his control has seemed to improve of late, and he threw 15 of his 19 pitches for strikes on Wednesday.
Collins had little choice but to count on him in this game, with so many of his other options unavailable. He said he was so committed to staying with Familia that he would have allowed him to bat for himself in the bottom of the eighth, even if he had come up with two out and the bases loaded.
As it was, Familia came to the plate only after Lucas Duda had padded the Mets' lead with a long two-run home run. And as it was, Familia added another hit himself.
Much more importantly, he became the sixth Met to record a save this season. No other team in the majors has more than four pitchers with saves.
The Mets haven't spread the saves around by choice, but rather because they keep searching for a combination that will work.
The way Mejia and Familia are pitching now, perhaps they're on the way to finding one.