The struggling Mets got yet another dose of optimism on Sunday when Jacob deGrom, the team’s co-ace who has been sidelined all season, struck out five of the six batters he faced in a rehab start for Class A St. Lucie.
Eighteen of deGrom’s 24 pitches went for strikes, with his fastball topping 100 miles an hour. He hit the only batter he didn’t strike out.
Combine that progress with Max Scherzer’s expected return from the injured list this week and the Mets’ pitching staff may finally become what General Manager Billy Eppler envisioned this off-season. The team will need all the help it can get given how poorly its offense has been performing in recent weeks.
“I felt like I had control of everything,” deGrom told reporters after Sunday’s start. “The main thing was trying to locate the fastball and pitch off that. Everything felt good.”
Of far more importance than deGrom’s results in his six-batter appearance, he said, was that his shoulder, which has sidelined him since spring training because of a stress reaction in his scapula, was not limiting him.
“It feels 100 percent,” he said. “Because it was bone — you can’t really push it. I had to wait until the bone was healed and move forward from there.”
Despite the strong outing, and the lack of pain, deGrom is expected to need several minor league starts before he returns to the majors.
The Mets got off to a terrific start this season, and even with a severe downturn on offense they have held on to their lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. That is despite Scherzer’s having only started eight games and with deGrom not having started a major league game since July 7 of last season.
Critical to that first half have been strong seasons from Taijuan Walker (6-2, 2.72 E.R.A.) and David Peterson (5-1, 3.24), who have helped offset the injuries to not only deGrom and Scherzer but also one affecting Tylor Megill, a right-hander who had some promising results earlier this season before landing on the injured list with a strained shoulder. Chris Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star with Oakland who was acquired in a spring training trade, was placed on the injured list on July 1, but the lack of injury designation suggested that his may be a coronavirus-related absence rather than anything wrong with his pitching arm.
Even Scherzer and deGrom might need more help than the Mets’ hitters have been providing in the last few weeks. After winning two of three at home in a weekend series against the Texas Rangers, the Mets are still 29th in the majors in on-base plus slugging percentage (.639) over the last 15 days, with only the Oakland Athletics below them. Pete Alonso has continued to perform, but just about every other Mets hitter has taken a severe downturn, no one more so than Mark Canha, a veteran outfielder acquired this off-season, who is 3 for his last 34.
If the Mets hope to hold off Atlanta, which as it did last season is surging after a tough start, pitching health and a return to form for the team’s hitters will be crucial.