ATLANTA — When the Mets first realized would have to play 18 games in 17 days leading up to the All-Star break, there were questions and concerns. How would their lineup hold up, what with so many still injured? And, the big one: Would their arms be able to withstand a heavy workload only further exacerbated by the loss of one of their starters to Tommy John surgery?
For the most part, they’ve been treading water. Their offense has been lackluster but their pitching has held on, even as the innings rack up. That is, until Wednesday night.
There were no late-game heroics in this one, and certainly little plus side to a brutal 20-2 loss at Truist Park. What’s worse, a week after losing Joey Lucchesi to a torn UCL, David Peterson, too, suffered an injury. The Mets are terming it right side soreness, and though it isn’t clear how serious it is, it certainly caused nothing less than an implosion. A somber Luis Rojas said after the game that Peterson left to have tests done.
"Let’s pray for the best here," Rojas said, adding that Peterson said he felt a sharp pain when he came out in the fourth. "It’s concerning. We’re waiting on the results to see the severity of this and we’ll have our contingency plan but these types of things are always concerning whenever they happen and you don’t have clarity with what’s going on.
Peterson pitched three innings plus two batters, allowing six runs, five earned on eight hits, with a walk, two strikeouts, and two wild pitches. His velocity was low from the very beginning, with his fastball hovering between the high 80s and low 90s. The Mets eventually turned to Sean Reid-Foley in the seven-run fourth, who actually fared worse than Peterson: five runs, four earned, on four hits in just a third of an inning.
It all paints a challenging picture for the Mets, who have relied heavily on their pitching, but have seen those same arms come down with injury at an alarming rate. Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman have had their ailments, though none of them serious, but losing Lucchesi is a blow. Gone, too, is Robert Gsellman, who’s on the 60-day injured list with a torn lat. They’re also working without Jeurys Familia, who’s expected back this weekend.
Tuesday, Rojas had to burn two of his long men, leaving only Corey Oswalt as a pitcher that can give them length. After Reid-Foley, Thomas Szapucki was tapped to make his major-league debut, albeit in mop-up duty. He pitched 3 2/3 innings and allowed seven runs, six earned, with a two-run homer to Ozzie Albies and a solo shot to Ehire Adrianza. He left in the eighth for Albert Almora Jr., and the two combined to give up six runs that inning. Albies went 5-for-6 with seven RBIs and two homers.
"It was obviously not what I was looking for," Szapucki said. "But I was super happy I was able to give the team the innings they needed and now our pen is fresh, so I was happy I was able to do that."
The Mets went ahead early on Kevin Pillar’s double and Pete Alonso’s two-run homer in the first. They did, however, collect only one more hit after that, and Peterson gave up the lead immediately.
The first batter to face him, Ronald Acuna Jr., hit a 447-foot blast with a 113.3-mph exit velocity to cut the lead in half. Peterson then allowed a single to Freddie Freeman, added a wild pitch to chase Freeman to second, and then let up an RBI single to Albies to tie the score at 2.
It just got uglier after that. He threw a clean second and got the first two outs of the third before walking Freeman and letting up a single to Albies to put runners at the corners, and then Austin Riley hit a sharp single to plate both runs and give Atlanta the 4-2 lead.
Atlanta tacked on another run against Peterson in the fourth, on Kevan Smith’s RBI single. That ended Peterson’s day, as he left with trainer Brian Chicklo.
And though deGrom pitches Thursday, none of this is coming easy — not with this long stretch of games, not with this taxed pitching staff.
"There’s some level of fatigue at times," Rojas said. "There’s been a lot of things that we’ve done just to survive this stretch. The front office has done a good job and I think a lot of people are preparing the plan to keep the moving parts that are needed to keep the guys fresh."
Their work, though, may be far from done.