Mets Stagger but deGrom Stands Tall

Mets’ ace reemerges but team staggers 

BY JOE RINI

How rough was the Mets weekend series against the Nationals? Well, let’s put it this way; the series started on Thursday night but the Mets didn’t take a lead until Sunday afternoon, when the Amazins salvaged one game out of four with a 5-1 victory as Jacob deGrom picked up his sixth win of the season and his first career homerun. The Mets ended the weekend 11.5 games behind the first place Nationals and even farther back in the developing NL wildcard race as they flew to Los Angeles hoping to stay relevant.

With the return of Yoenis Cespedes, Steven Matz, and Seth Lugo from the disabled list, the Mets had hoped to gain some ground on the recent homestand.  However, even after taking two of three from the World Champion Chicago Cubs, the ranks of disabled Mets swelled again as Matt Harvey, Neil Walker, and Juan Lagares were befelled by significant injuries.

After an early exit versus the Cubs on June 14, Harvey was subsequently diagnosed with a stress injury in the right scapula bone (shoulder blade). The Mets righthander had started decently in his first few starts this season after his 2016 season was cut short by TOS surgery but his more recent results were uneven as the Dark Knight lasted six innings in only one of his last nine starts. In announcing  the news about Harvey, Mets GM Sandy Alderson said it was difficult to speculate about what to expect from Harvey for the rest of the season.

One of the few bright spots during the disappointing 3-4 homestand was the performance of Jacob deGrom. In addition to besting the Nationals this past Sunday, the 29-year old Floridian pitched a complete game five hitter on June 12 against the Cubs in a 6-1 Mets win.

These performances had followed a couple of subpar outings by the reigning ace of the Mets staff. Prior to the June 12 game, manager Terry Collins noted that deGrom had become a “power fastball guy” after making it to the majors as a guy who used his sinker and slider and “kept the ball down in the zone” as the manager suggested that perhaps deGrom needed to use his change-up more to keep batters from sitting on the fastball. Following his dominant performance, Collins noted how well deGrom had mixed his pitches rather than relying on his fastball and said, “That’s the guy we know.”

After the deGrom’s game against the Cubs, I asked Collins about the four ground ball double plays he induced and Collins said players don’t seem to hit many ground balls anymore with the “new launch angles” but deGrom had “life on his fastball…because guys were on top of the ball.”

I actually had a chance after Collins’ pregame press conference to ask catcher Travis d’Arnaud about whether he thought deGrom was relying too much on his fastball in recent games. In fairness to d’Arnaud, he couldn’t readily speak to that question without seeing a breakdown of pitches thrown but he mentioned that you have a game plan going into a game and how you call a game can depend on what’s working for the pitcher that night. The Mets catcher said deGrom’s location was off in his two prior starts but he wasn’t concerned; he said it’s a long season and “If a pitcher leaves one over the plate, they’ll hit it.”

Also, prior to the game on June 12, Mets owner Fred Wilpon was on the field. It’s always an interesting sight to see the 80-year old owner around the batting chatting with the staff and players and mingling with the fans on field. Seeing the left-handed Wilpon signing autographs for the fans, and knowing the value of southpaw relievers in baseball, I tongue-in-cheek asked him if he could get an out in relief tonight, and he good naturedly waved his arm and laughed, “No way!”