When the Mets traded Marlon Byrd and John Buck to Pirates on August 27, 2013, General Manager Sandy Alderson was praised for the return he was able to secure. Byrd and Buck were both scheduled to be free agents at the season’s end and Alderson was able to acquire a young second-base prospect in Dilson Herrera as well as a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Vic Black, a then-25 year old reliever who, only a month earlier, had just made his Major League debut for the Pirates.
A first-round pick of the Pirates in 2009 (and, three years earlier, a 41st-round pick of the Mets), Black became a full-time reliever in 2011 and earned his claim to fame with his high strikeout totals. Unfortunately, those strikeouts came with plenty of walks. The favorite for the Mets’ 8th inning job going into the season, Black walked 10 batters and posted a 5.79 ERA in 9.1 during spring training. As a result, he was not included on the opening day roster, instead being sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas to play with the 51’s. While he walked 17 batters in just 18.2 innings, Black pitched to the tune of a 1.45 ERA and earned 7 saves for the 51’s. His performance must have impressed the front office because, when Jose Valverde was released after his implosion on Memorial Day, Black was called up to the big league roster.
In his 2014 debut, Black didn’t look particularly sharp, walking two batters against his former Pirates team despite earning the win in the process. In Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Black showed that he absolutely belongs at the back end of the Mets bullpen.
The Mets held a 4-0 lead going into the 7th inning, but that lead was quickly diminished to three after Marlon Byrd crushed Zack Wheeler’s only mistake of the night over the right field fence with one out in the inning. After Terry Collins brought Scott Rice in to face his mandatory one-batter-a-game (whom he retired), Vic Black was brought in to get the final out of the seventh. Black struck out Carlos Ruiz on three pitches and was brought back on to face the 8-9-1 hitters in the bottom of the 8th. Black struck out Cesar Hernandez and pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. before getting Ben Revere to ground out to second. Black needed just 13 pitches, 11 of which were strikes, to retire the four batters he faced. Jenrry Mejia would come on to strike out the side in the 9th, and the bullpen was able to reward Zack Wheeler for his brilliant performance with his second win of the year.
If Vic Black can minimize the walk-per-inning rate he had in the minors this season, he will be an extremely effective big league reliever. Black doesn’t allow very many hits and strikes out a ton of batters, but his achilles heal has always been his inability to keep down his free-pass rate. If he can continue to pitch like he did tonight, he will be an important piece of the Mets bullpen for many years to come. Along with Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, and a healthy Bobby Parnell, Vic Black can be a huge part of the inevitable future success in Flushing.