MIAMI -- Left-hander Tim Byrdak tossed one inning Saturday in extended spring training, his first game action since undergoing surgery last August to repair a torn capsule in his pitching shoulder. The Mets are still eyeing a July return for Byrdak, who was on pace for 86 appearances last season before suffering the injury.
Posting a 4.08 ERA in nearly two full seasons with the Mets, Byrdak signed a Minor League deal to remain in the organization last winter. He has since split his rehab between Port St. Lucie, Fla., and his home in Illinois.
The Mets have a history of placing overworked lefty specialists (see: Byrdak and Pedro Feliciano) on the disabled list in recent years, so Byrdak's return could provide some welcome relief for similarly overused reliever Scott Rice. Serving as the team's primary left-handed reliever in Byrdak's absence, Rice is on pace for a league-leading 97 appearances.
That is in large part a function of his success; Rice is holding lefties to a .150 average and a .333 OPS, and he has not allowed a run in eight of his last nine appearances.
Consider it a trend for the bullpen as a whole, which entered Saturday's play with two earned runs allowed over its past 15 innings to reduce its season ERA from 4.90 to 4.57. Manager Terry Collins chalked the sudden success up to the fact that Mets starters have averaged 6.7 innings per game over that stretch, versus 5.6 innings leading up to that point.
"That's exactly what it is," Collins said. "[Starters] are going deeper into games, so you're looking at certain matchups now that ... you're bringing guys in to face certain guys in their lineup that they're going to have better success against."