Rice becoming valuable piece to Mets' bullpen

Rice becoming valuable piece to Mets' bullpen

NEW YORK -- Still holding on to the dream of reaching the Major Leagues, hoping his days of toiling away in the Minors were coming to an end, Scott Rice traveled to the Dominican Republic this past offseason with a plan. In his time pitching in the Winter Leagues, Rice wanted to learn to master the splitter.

It would be one more piece to his arsenal. If Rice could learn to control it and use it effectively to get outs, it could be his ticket to the Majors.

"Eventually, I figured it out," Rice said. "I figured out how to throw it, and I got the confidence throwing it to hitters."

Not only has that splitter helped bring Rice, 31, to the Majors, but it's turned him into a consistent and dependable reliever for the Mets.

In the Mets' 9-4 win over the Yankees on Wednesday night, Rice allowed one hit over 1 2/3 innings and struck out three. It was another great outing in a season when Mets manager Terry Collins has turned to Rice time and again.

Leading the Majors with 30 appearances, Rice hasn't given up a run in 23 of his 30 outings. After 14 seasons in the Minors, Rice has been outstanding for the Mets.

So much so, even his manager is surprised.

"To be honest, it's been a huge surprise," Collins said. "This guy spent 14 years to get here. And he just throws strikes."

Especially with that splitter.

Rice said he used to get by primarily throwing sinkers. He started working on the splitter last season, but he made it a goal to learn how to throw it effectively during the winter. Every time he got two strikes on a hitter, Rice threw the splitter. He either struck the hitter out or walked him.

Rice's splitter improved during Spring Training, but at that time, he was only throwing it to right-handed hitters. Still, it helped him earn a spot on the Mets' roster.

Once the season started, Rice said Mets catcher John Buck wanted him to throw it to lefties also.

"I kept shaking him off, shaking him off, because I've never done it before," Rice said.

But Buck eventually convinced him, and two months into the season, Rice has become a go-to reliever for the Mets as part of the bridge to closer Bobby Parnell.

"He's definitely got his routine and what he needs to do to be successful down pat," Parnell said. "He goes about his business right, and he's taking the opportunity and running with it."

Rice said he's fine with his high number of appearances. As long as his arm feels good, he said he just wants to help the team win.

He didn't spend all those seasons in the Minors for nothing, and Rice isn't about to let this chance go by.

"I didn't really think I'd be given this opportunity so early, but it happened, I was given an opportunity," Rice said. "I've been able to do what they've asked of me so far."

Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.