One start into his time with the Mets, Rick Porcello remains a question mark, and certainly not an answer.
It was hard to gauge exactly what kind of pitcher Porcello would be when the Mets opted to ink him to a one-year contract for $10 million in December. He not only was the 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner but also has been one of baseball’s most durable pitchers for a decade. However, his 5.52 ERA with Boston last season was the worst among qualified pitchers.
It was more the latter than the former Sunday night. In his Mets debut, Porcello couldn’t even record an out in the third inning and was charged with seven runs as the Atlanta Braves earned a 14-1 victory at a deserted Citi Field.
Porcello, 31, faced 15 batters and allowed seven hits and three walks in two innings-plus.
“I was excited. This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, which made it very disappointing today,” said Porcello, who grew up a Mets fan in New Jersey. “I don’t feel good about what I did today. It was a terrible two innings, and seven runs doesn’t do anything for our team.”
The Mets’ offense also is looking problematic and has had anemic production in the first 5% of this 60-game sprint of a season. The Mets are averaging 1.7 runs per game, are 4-for-21 with runners in scoring position and have stranded 24 baserunners.
“We talked about putting quality at-bats together,” manager Luis Rojas said. “It’s one of the things we’ve got to start doing. We’re chasing and that’s leading to not impacting the ball hard consistently. We aren’t getting the byproduct — walking — and creating traffic [to be] able to score.”
Porcello had abysmal starts like this in each of the previous two years. Last season he had one in which he recorded only one out and was charged with six runs against the Yankees. In 2018, he had a start in which he went two innings and was charged with eight runs against the Blue Jays.
He spent the offseason trying to get back successful mechanics that were not there for him last season, and although he said the mechanics Sunday were all right, “there were misfires.”
He added, “There’s obviously something wrong — I’m spiking changeups the way I was.”
The Mets’ entire situation was far different when they signed Porcello (who will get about $3.7 million for these 60 games). He and Michael Wacha — who is slated to pitch Monday night in Boston — were expected to compete for the last spot in the starting rotation behind Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz. However, with Syndergaard lost for the season to Tommy John surgery and Stroman contending with a torn calf muscle, Porcello becomes a bet the Mets need to win if they are to compete in the tough NL East.
The Braves pounded out 17 hits, with every starter getting at least one. Dansby Swanson did the most damage, tying his career high with five RBIs on three hits, including a home run. Ozzie Albies had three hits and three RBIs and Ender Inciarte had two hits and two RBIs for Atlanta.
Brandon Nimmo had a run-scoring double in the second as the Mets crept within 2-1 before the Braves broke it open.
Porcello allowed run-scoring singles by Mets castoff Matt Adams and Swanson in the first. Albies opened the third by reaching on an error by third baseman Jeff McNeil, who was shifted to between second and first base. Freddie Freeman drew a walk before Marcell Ozuna’s run-scoring double. Then Adams walked in front of a two-run double by Swanson. Porcello exited with the score 5-1 and two runners in scoring position.
Corey Oswalt issued a walk and Inciarte’s two-run double before recording the first Atlanta out. The reliever allowed five runs in four innings, including homers by Swanson, Ozuna and Austin Riley.
Rojas made some changes to the starting lineup, including moving Amed Rosario from the bottom of the order to the leadoff spot. He indicated it was in response to a pair of good games and added that his faith in the hitters hadn’t changed.
“I’m pretty confident about our offense,” he said before the first pitch. “Guys are going to get to the rhythm. Some guys are going to, just out of the chute, start swinging the bat well. Things are going to start connecting — the guys have shown before that they can hit, and we feel the same way right now.”
The Mets need to stop feeling and start seeing it. Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano and McNeil went hitless and are 1-for-11, 1-for-10 and 1-for-9 respectively. The Mets’ team batting average is .214.
“For the most part, I saw guys chasing breaking balls out front,” Rojas said. “We want to see the timing to zone in . . . and be able to lay off pitches not in the zone. We want guys to slow things down and . . . . be that offensive team that we know we are.”
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