CHICAGO — One-third of the way through his first season in the United States, Kodai Senga remains an enigma on the mound.
He followed up his best start last week with one that wasn’t nearly as good Wednesday in the Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Cubs.
Across five innings, Senga yielded three runs, six hits and a season-high five walks, a bottom line that through a certain lens registered as a success. He almost failed to finish the fourth, with the Mets getting reliever Tommy Hunter warmed up behind him.
Medford native Marcus Stroman, conversely, shut down the Mets for eight innings, allowing two runs and four hits by doing what he does at his best: working fast, staying efficient with his pitches and inducing a ton of ground balls.
By the time Senga exited the game at 106 pitches, Stroman had thrown fewer than half that (49) over the same number of innings.
“It was two different types of pitchers tonight, but in a lot of ways they had similar effectiveness,” manager Buck Showalter said. “One guy went eight. That’s what Kodai’s capable of doing if he can manage his pitch [count] a little bit better. There’s not a lot of quick outs compared to what Stroman was able to do.”
Fresh off their feel-good, comeback-filled homestand, the Mets (25-25) already have dropped another series to a losing team in the Cubs (22-26). They play again Thursday night.
Senga has a 3.94 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in nine starts. Those aren’t that bad in the context of a rotation that has not pitched to its potential, but they are a steep decline from what he did as an ace in Japan.
Chicago rallied for three runs in the second inning. Dansby Swanson’s double scored Nico Hoerner. Seiya Suzuki’s double plated Swanson. Mike Tauchman’s single brought in Suzuki.
Senga found more trouble in the fourth when he walked the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, triggering movement in the bullpen. But he retired the next three batters without allowing a run, then pitched a scoreless fifth.
“Things weren’t clicking the way I wanted it to,” Senga said through an interpreter. “I don’t think I was able to control my pitches as well as I would’ve liked to. That resulted in high pitch counts.”
Senga’s curious reality: His command and effectiveness come and go, sometimes inning to inning but more often game to game. Showalter said he thinks Senga will be more consistent when the weather warms up; it was 51 degrees at first pitch.
Last month, for example, Senga shut down the Marlins one week but got knocked around by the Athletics the next. At the start of May, he shut out the Rockies for six innings but in his next start struggled for five innings against the Reds.
Last week, he struck out 12 and allowed just one run in six innings against the Rays, who led the majors in a variety of key offensive categories. But then came this mediocrity.
In four starts at Citi Field, Senga has a 1.57 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
In five starts at other ballparks, Senga has a 6.12 ERA and 1.84 WHIP.
Those are small but nonetheless drastic samples. Senga said he wasn’t sure why that was the case.
“That’ll even out as we go forward,” Showalter said. “This was a very competitive start for us. It gets magnified because their pitcher was on top of his game.”
Facing his former team (albeit with just four former teammates in the lineup), Stroman had one blemish: Francisco Alvarez’s two-run homer — through a strong wind blowing in — to left-centerfield in the third inning. Alvarez also singled in the sixth.
When they faced off for a third time — with runners on the corners and one out, Alvarez representing the potential go-ahead run — Stroman got him to ground into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.
That helped Stroman get his first win against the Mets.
“I really don't play into it too much, to be honest with you,” he said. “Younger me may have seen it as a revenge game.”