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Harper: Mets closer Jeurys Familia too good for quick pitch

Scouts say Jeurys Familia is only getting better which means he doesn't have a need for the quick pitch anymore.Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports

Scouts say Jeurys Familia is only getting better which means he doesn’t have a need for the quick pitch anymore.

PORT ST. LUCIE — A couple of days ago a National League scout was musing about the potential for the Mets to put several players on the All-Star team this season, and which of the ballyhooed starting pitchers might be the best bet, when a thought came to him:

“Actually, the guy who’s a lock is (Jeurys) Familia,” the scout said. “The kid’s got some of the nastiest stuff in the game, and he’s still getting better. He throws 97 with hard sink and now he has that splitter…”

The scout paused as another thought occurred. “He just doesn’t need that quick pitch he throws. I’ll be interested to see if he junks it after he gave up that home run in the World Series.”

Ah, the quick pitch. Familia has heard a lot about it since throwing it to Alex Gordon in Game 1 of the World Series and watching it disappear over the center-field fence for a game-tying — and series-changing — home run. But he says he doesn’t second-guess himself for throwing it. “I missed the location but I’ve been using the quick pitch for two years,’’ Familia said on Monday. “It’s worked for me. It’s helped me a lot. I’ll continue to throw it.”

Pitching coach Dan Warthen said he’s fine with that, though he has told Familia he disagreed with the decision to throw the quick pitch to Gordon.

“The quick pitch is a good tool,” Warthen said. “It can be very effective against guys with big leg kicks, or guys that are on your stuff pretty good. I just thought that one was a poor decision because he threw a sinker the pitch before and (Gordon) hit the top of the baseball and fouled it straight down, basically to the catcher. So he hadn’t shown that he could handle the sinker, and there was no reason to change anything. But the quick pitch has worked very well for Jeurys, and he will continue to throw it.”

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Familia learned the quick pitch from LaTroy Hawkins a couple of years ago, and, to the scout’s point, he’s probably outgrown the need for what amounts to a trick pitch now that his stuff is so dominant. As Terry Collins said at the time last October, he thought the pitch stayed up in the strike zone because Familia may have rushed his delivery to throw it. However, the Mets don’t want to mess with what their closer has going. They love his work ethic and his upbeat demeanor, to the point where Warthen says, “He’s one of the most talented guys I’ve ever seen, and as a teammate he’s above and beyond.”

He’s also as indispensable as anyone on the ballclub going into the 2016 season. A year ago, remember, everyone saw great late-inning potential in Familia, but he had no experience as a closer when he was thrust into the position by Jenrry Mejia’s first PED suspension. That he adapted so well, converting 43 of 47 saves — and often overmatching hitters, holding them to a .207 batting average and .261 on-base percentage, proved crucial to the Mets’ season. Then in the postseason he had spectacular numbers, even with the Gordon home run, posting an 0.61 ERA while giving up three hits in 14 2/3 innings over 12 appearances.

He did wind up with three blown saves in the World Series, but two of them were primarily the result of some awful Mets defense.

In any case, if Familia is getting better, at age 26, as the scout suggested, perhaps it’s because he’s still learning to command the natural sink on his fastball, and now the splitter as well. For that matter, Familia hasn’t pitched as long as most major-leaguers. Basketball was his first love, growing up in the Dominican Republic; he says he was 15 when he played baseball for the first time, and not as a pitcher. “We played basketball every day after school,” Familia recalled. “And I loved watching it. I loved Allen Iverson. But my friends started playing baseball, so I decided to try it.

“I was playing third base and the outfield, but one day a scout from the Pirates said to me, ‘You like money?’ I said, ‘Sure, who doesn’t.’ He said, ‘If you want to make money, start pitching.’”

No doubt Familia’s size —he’s now 6-3, 240 — intrigued that Pirates scout, but he says the Mets offered more money and he signed at age 17. Soon enough he was touted as a high-ceiling starter, but when he had trouble developing a third pitch, the Sandy Alderson regime thought he’d fit best as a reliever.

Familia said he was fine with it because he thought it would help him get to the big leagues faster, and now he says he prefers the bullpen because he can pitch more often. If he validates his first year as a closer with similar success, he does figure to be an All-Star, as the scout said, especially with Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel now in the AL.

And maybe at some point he’ll realize he doesn’t need a trick pitch to be one of the best in the game.

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