Mets acquire reliever Ayala from Nats
Move could help strengthen bullpen as playoff hunt heats up
PITTSBURGH -- A trade the Mets hope will be a solution to their bullpen problems -- and one that could compound the problems -- was consummated Sunday when the team with the third-highest bullpen ERA in the league acquired Luis Ayala from the Nationals. At a modest cost -- shortstop Anderson Hernandez -- the Mets imported the pitcher with the most bullpen losses in the league (eight), and one who has been said to have lost something else: his confidence.
The addition of Ayala won't prompt wholesale changes in how manager Jerry Manuel uses the relief corps, even though Manuel said he assumes Ayala is a so-called crossover pitcher, equally effective against left-handed and right-handed hitters.
Moreover, the Mets manager indicated he would not abandon the idea of moving a starting pitcher -- John Maine remains the most likely candidate -- to the 'pen, though he did acknowledge the chances of doing so have been diminished by the low-profile trade.
The move was announced shortly after closer Billy Wagner flew home to have his left arm examined and following another dizzying ninth inning, one the National League East leaders survived, on Saturday night. Ayala was to join the Mets here Monday in time for the fourth game of the series, beginning at 12:35 p.m. ET
The 30-year-old right-handed reliever, who had spent his entire big league career with the Expos/Nationals franchise, will be reunited with Mets general manager Omar Minaya. He did his most effective pitching for the 2003 Expos -- Minaya was the general manager at the time.
But Ayala hasn't pitched effectively since returning from an arm injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic in 2006. He missed the entire '06 season and produced a 2-2 record with a 3.19 ERA in 44 appearances last season.
Ayala had appeared in 62 games with the Nationals, the team with the worst record this season, producing a 5.77 ERA and a 1-8 record. His ERA in August is 7.36. His overall ERA is nearly 150 points higher than that of the Mets' bullpen. Only the Pirates and Giants, both with winning percentages lower than .500, have bullpen ERAs higher than the Mets' 4.31. The Mets' relief corps has an 18-19 record.
Only three other National League pitchers have lost as many as seven games in relief, and one of them is Aaron Heilman, who has done most of the closing for the Mets since Wagner became baseball-incapacitated on Aug. 3.
Told of Ayala's statistical resume for 2008, Mets manager Jerry Manuel reacted with an exaggerated, "Oh man!" But he said he had been impressed by Ayala'a performance against the Mets on Wednesday in Washington. Ayala allowed one walk and achieved six ground-ball outs in two innings. But his workday began with Mets leading, 12-0. David Wright characterized Ayala as "Tough on me, personally" and noted the veteran reliever threw a quality sinker, a four-seam fastball in the 92-mph range and a slider "to keep you off the sinker." Wright called them "three plus pitches."
But that scouting report mentions nothing of the pitcher's confidence, and people in the Nationals organization say Ayala has become "bat shy." Left-handed hitters are batting .270 against him, and right-handed hitters .288.
Ayala has been quite effective against the Phillies, the Mets' closest rival in the NL East hunt, in his career. He has a 4-1 record and 1.47 ERA in 35 games against them. Their batting average against him is .203.
To accommodate Ayala on the 40-player roster, the Mets transferred Moises Alou to the 60-day disabled list. To accommodate Ayala on the 25-man big league roster, they likely will demote Eddie Kunz after the game against the Pirates on Sunday.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.