MIAMI — Maybe Jacob deGrom can get even better.
For his latest feat, the Mets’ ace dominated the Marlins for seven shutout innings, plus hit the second home run of his career in a 6-4 win Wednesday night to complete a three-game sweep. He struck out a career-high 14 and allowed three hits and one walk.
“That was probably the best I’ve felt in a long time,” said deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball last year.
Manager Mickey Callaway said: “There’s been so many [good deGrom games] in a row I didn’t even realize that it was 14 Ks. He just does the same thing every time. You look up at the end and it’s something really impressive.”
Combined with RBI extra-base hits from Amed Rosario, Pete Alonso and Robinson Cano, deGrom’s all-around masterpiece was enough for another Mets victory, the finishing touch on a 5-1 season-opening road trip ahead of their first game at Citi Field at 1 p.m. Thursday.
The game was an ordinary one until the top of the third, when deGrom crushed a first-pitch fastball from Trevor Richards (six innings, three runs) into the Mets’ bullpen in rightfield. His only other homer came July 18, 2017, at Citi Field against the Nationals.
DeGrom said he stepped up to the plate trying to go deep.
“Sometimes pitchers will take the first pitch, purely so it’s not one pitch and one out,” Brandon Nimmo said. “When he passed me [on the way to bat], he said, ‘I’m not taking a pitch.’ I was like, ‘Oh, great. All right.’”
Then deGrom not only swung at the first pitch, but hit it 383 feet.
“When he crossed home plate, I said, ‘Well, if you do that, you don’t have to take the first pitch,’” Nimmo said.
With deGrom not scheduled to pitch again for a week — because of off days Friday and Monday — Callaway pushed him to 114 pitches. His final frame: JT Riddle strikeout swinging, Lewis Brinson strikeout swinging, Chad Wallach strikeout swinging. DeGrom’s penultimate pitch was a 97.9-mph fastball a tad outside. He followed up with an 88.3-mph changeup that got Wallach to whiff.
I knew if I struck out the side it would be a career-high,” deGrom said. “Once I got the first two guys, it became a goal.”
Only one Marlin got as far as second base against deGrom: Rosell Herrera, who was credited with a double when Rosario dropped and kicked Herrera’s bloop to the lip of the outfield grass behind second base in the fifth inning.
Throughout, deGrom was working with a particularly powerful slider. It averaged 94.1 mph, according to Brooks Baseball, significantly higher than his average of about 91.5 mph last year and in his previous start. DeGrom credited that jump to feeling especially smooth mechanically.
“Maybe he just had extra power tonight,” Callaway said. “That’s why he hit the homer. I don’t know.”
Among deGrom’s noteworthy numbers:
* Wednesday was his 26th consecutive quality start (at least six innings, three runs or fewer). That ties Bob Gibson (1967-68) for the longest such streak in major-league history.
* DeGrom racked up double-digit strikeouts in each of his first two starts, the first pitcher in Mets history to do so. He has 24 total in those 13 innings.
* He is up to 26 consecutive scoreless innings dating to last season, a personal best (topping his 24 1/3-inning run in early 2018).
“It’s showing off that he probably has the best stuff in all of the major leagues,” Callaway said. “What he’s doing is historic. You got to have really nasty stuff to be able to do that.”
Closer Edwin Diaz got the final out for his third save (and fourth appearance in six games) after Luis Avilan and Robert Gsellman couldn’t get it done in the ninth. They combined to allow four runs, turning a blowout into another close one.
“We need to start executing pitches,” Callaway said of his relievers. “When you come in, you got to start executing pitches right away. You can’t be throwing pitches [in the] middle.”
Still, this all leaves the Mets feeling awfully good about themselves, much as they did this time a year ago, heading into their first homestand.
“It’s going to be electric. It’s going to be electric. I can’t wait,” Alonso said. “I know how Mets fans are. First game of the season at Citi Field, it’s going to be so fun.”