Kodai Senga #34 of the Mets looks on during the second...

Kodai Senga #34 of the Mets looks on during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Wednesday, Apr. 26, 2023 in the Queens borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

So much has been made of Kodai Senga's ghost fork. 

It’s the pitch that helped make him marketable in the United States before he ever put on a Mets jersey. It’s the one that helped him establish domination in Japan. And it’s the one that had fans at Citi on Wednesday wearing bedsheets in what would have otherwise been the world’s laziest (and wrongly-timed) Halloween costume.

But on this chilly night against the Nationals, Senga’s forkball looked too human to be supernatural, and his control issues teetered on the unmanageable.

There were two ways to look at it: One, that a pitch that’s meant to disappear down out of the zone will always be tricky to manage. Eventually, players will get accustomed to this particular sleight of hand and lay off more than not, much like the Nationals did in spurts Wednesday. Or option two, Senga somehow allowed just two runs on five hits, four walks and a wild pitch to the Nationals while throwing five innings on a cold night and clearly without his best stuff. If hitters acclimate to him, it’s certainly possible that Senga will continue to hone the adaptability that’s marked his brief tenure on the Mets so far. After all, you don’t become one of the best pitchers in Japan by throwing a single pitch with decent branding.

Unsurprisingly, Buck Showalter thinks that Senga, who now has a 4.15 ERA, will end up with option No. 2.

“I think he’s had an open mind – receptive,” Showalter said. "He’s been a sponge…He picks things up quickly. He’s got a lot of want-to. He’s a very competitive guy. He wants to do well…I’ve been happy with his progress. He’s adjusted to us as much as we’ve adjusted to him.”

In that way, Wednesday provided a decent litmus test for fans’ view of Senga’s potential.


Senga started the game throwing six straight balls out of the strike zone, somehow scurrying out of trouble after getting Luis Garcia to ground into a force out at second, and then nibbling around to retire Jeimer Candelario and Joey Meneses despite throwing 11 out of 14 pitches out of the zone (one was called for a strike). 

The Nationals finally managed to get some leverage in the second after Senga allowed the first four batters to reach. He struck out the next two, though, and would have gotten a third, had a strike three to Garcia not been called for a walk. Senga, though, remained unrattled – striking out Candelario on a forkball near his shoe tops.

It didn't get too much prettier, though there were signs that Senga will be able to figure this out: He topped out at 97.7 on his fastball and got two key double plays, a nod to the 45.5% groundball rate that’s helped him scuttle out of trouble a few times this year. In the fourth, he bounced back from a second and third, one out situation by striking out Alex Call swinging on a forkball out of the zone, and got Garcia to ground out. In the fifth, he made up for Eduardo Escobar’s error by coaxing a textbook 4-6-3 double play from Keibert Ruiz. He threw 94 pitches, 57 for strikes, with seven strikeouts. 

It was, in short, an exercise in figuring it out.

It’s something he’s had to do plenty so far, as he adjusts to a new team and a new country, and, apparently, food he sometimes doesn’t like (but is too polite to complain about). Showalter recalled that last bit when talking about this last road trip, when Senga didn’t get the food he wanted, but stayed mum. Even things like that, Showalter said, can be a little bit disconcerting when you’re so far from home.

“You’ve got to be alert to it and fix it,” Showalter said. “He’s not what I’d call a needy guy. He’s not going to ask, but you’ve got to be an ally for him with things and put yourself in his shoes. The first time I went to Latin America, I couldn’t imagine – it made me appreciate what those guys went through over here.”

In other words, Showalter thinks Senga has the tools to survive here. And they’re not just forks.

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