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The Mets’ Rotation Is Dominating—Even Without Jacob deGrom

New York has MLB’s best record in large part because of its starting staff, which is thriving despite the injury to MLB’s best pitcher.

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NEW YORK — Chasen Shreve all but skipped up the subway stairs into Manhattan on Tuesday night. He played for the winningest team in baseball, with the best pitching staff in baseball, and right at that moment—fresh off a doubleheader sweep of the Giants—he felt he was having the most fun in baseball.

The Mets reliever poked his head out into the chilly air and grinned as another thought occurred to him: And we don’t even have deGrom yet.

Indeed, after a 6–2 win on Thursday gave New York the series victory over San Francisco and made it the only team with 10 wins, its most impressive number is not the one atop the standings but the one on the injured list: No. 48, Jacob deGrom. The Mets ace is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball when he is healthy, which he has not been since last July. A succession of injuries—elbow, back, shoulder—has kept him off the mound. The team says he is scheduled for an MRI on Monday. In the meantime, New York’s starters have a 2.10 ERA without him.

“Let’s make sure we’re [clear],” says righty Max Scherzer, who signed with the Mets this winter for three years and $130 million, the richest contract in history by average annual value, to be 1B to deGrom’s 1A. “Jake’s pretty freaking good. You’re worse off when you don’t have Jake. You always want him out there. But we’ve done a nice job as a whole being able to cover him.”

New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer delivers to a San Francisco Giants batter during the second inning of the second game of a baseball doubleheader Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in New York.

Scherzer

Scherzer has dominated hitters for almost 15 years, so his success does not surprise anyone. And New York felt it picked up a steadying force, both on and off the mound, with righty Chris Bassitt, whom it acquired from the A’s in March. Righty Carlos Carrasco is a solid mid-rotation starter. But righty Tylor Megill, pressed into service when deGrom went down, and lefty David Peterson, who slotted into the rotation when righty Taijuan Walker developed bursitis in his shoulder, have been revelations. Megill did not allow a run until his third start; Peterson still has not. They say they feed off one another.

“Why wouldn't it give you confidence?” Peterson says. “It's just like hitters—you see the guy in front of you get a hit, you see him have a good at bat, it gives you confidence going into the box. So for us as starters, or a starter and then a reliever taking over, why not build off of continuing the success that the guy before you had? The guy in front of you has a good start—why not keep it going? We’re trying to win and we're all trying to do our part. So yeah, it's a lot easier to do well when you see guys have success.”

(No one was brave enough to mention to Scherzer that through the first two turns, he actually had the worst ERA of them all, at 3.27. “I don’t think you wanna go down that path,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner says, laughing. It didn’t last long, anyway. In his third start—the second game in Tuesday’s doubleheader—Scherzer took a no-hitter into the sixth inning; his ERA is down to 2.50.)

They credit a variety of elements for their performance: the right attitude; a pitching coach who treats them as individuals; and a culture, imported in part by the newcomers, of collaboration.

First, attitude. Their manager has no patience for the wrong one. “You think somebody who works across the street [in one of the auto body shops] cares about someone getting hurt or playing a day game after a night game or cold weather?” says Buck Showalter. “It’s an opportunity. I don’t want to hear a bad attitude. I told guys, ‘Don’t let that creep into the clubhouse, that woe-is-me stuff.’ What a great opportunity for Megill and [Peterson]. When [deGrom and Walker] come back, we’re gonna go, ‘Wow, we’ve got some depth.’”

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Peterson made the team out of spring training last year and struggled; Megill was promoted from Triple A Syracuse at midseason to fill a hole created by injuries. Both pitchers say that experience has helped them calm their nerves and slow the game down this year.

Apr 17, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher David Peterson (23) pitches in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field.

Peterson

So has their pitching coach. Shreve signed a minor league deal with the Mets this spring because he had so enjoyed his experience here in 2020. He spent ’21 with the Pirates; when he suggested throwing his fastball down in the zone to tunnel it with his splitter, they did not agree. But he really believed the idea was a good one, so this spring he brought it to Hefner. “Let’s try it,” Hefner said.

“His fastball plays up in the zone,” Hefner says now. “Pittsburgh isn’t wrong having him pitch up in the zone. But if a guy has pitched up in the zone his entire career, or he made an adjustment early on in his career to start throwing up, that’s all on the scouting reports, right? … If you can command it and you can locate it consistently, who am I to say, ‘Don’t do it’?”

Shreve has not allowed a hit on a low fastball yet this year.

Megill had a similar experience. He arrived this spring hoping to reshape his slider from the pitch that looked more like a cutter last year. Hefner told him to go for it. Megill adjusted his grip and took a little velocity off; he has not yet allowed a hit on that pitch.

And the veterans are serving as personal pitching coaches at times, too. Scherzer and Bassitt encourage young pitchers to gather around them in the dugout after the starter is pulled, no matter who he is. Bassitt offers feedback on what he saw, making sure to “read the room,” he said, and give them space after rough outings. Scherzer quizzes the kids on what they saw—especially after rough outings.

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“A lot of times when you give up a bunch of runs, the instinct is to let him be, but for me, no, no, no—that's where you get to learn,” he says. “Baseball is giving you a free lesson today.”

Among those lessons: The loss of deGrom does not have to be the catastrophe some fans predicted. “If we are in trouble with one guy going down, then are we really built to win?” says catcher Tomas Nido. “It takes more than one guy to get us where we want to go, so when he went down, I think it made us want to step up.” 

It has only been 14 games. But that means they’re 14 games closer to getting deGrom back.

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