For weeks, in the face of futility from David Peterson, the Mets’ message never changed: He was staying in the rotation. They believed strongly in the ability of their former first-round pick to figure it out. A rebound could happen — and happen fast.
Peterson made good on the confidence of manager Luis Rojas and the organization — for at least a night — by helping the Mets to a 5-2 win over the Cubs on Monday in the opener of a four-game series between playoff contenders.
With a sharper slider, he allowed one hit in six shutout innings, striking out three and walking two. That lowered his ERA to 5.60. He pitched to one more than the minimum, erasing Patrick Wisdom (walk) on a double-play grounder by Jake Marisnick and Eric Sogard (single) on a slick pickoff throw to second base.
"His focus level was high and he was the kid that we know," Rojas said. "His poise, the pitch-ability, everything. He picked off a guy at second base. You go and play and pitch. That’s what got you here to the big leagues. You shouldn’t change your approach, your mindset.’’
It was Peterson’s first scoreless outing of the year and the longest scoreless outing of his career.
It might’ve been his best start of the year, too. But his April 14 effort against the Phillies (six innings, one run, 10 strikeouts) and his May 14 outing against the Rays (7 1⁄3 innings, two runs, nine strikeouts) stand as reminders: He has looked like this before, but he hasn’t always been able to maintain it.
"This is a really good test for him to show how good this kid can be," Rojas said. "Because he’s done it in the past for us."
There were early signs that Peterson might find more trouble, but trouble never came. The first five batted balls by the Cubs (38-28) were hit at 102.5 mph or faster — which is to say, hit very hard. But they all turned into outs. "Hard hit or not, they were caught," Peterson said. "They were outs."
He settled in from there, retiring 11 of his final 12 batters. After the last one, Willson Contreras on a strikeout swinging, he had a rare public display of emotion, slapping his bare left hand with his glove.
His night was over at 73 pitches, but the Mets (33-25) hope he is just getting started. He has been a missing link in a rotation with a majors-best 2.72 ERA (including a 0.89 ERA in the past turn).
"That’s a No. 1 team over there in their division, so to go against a good club like that and compete and show them that he wasn’t afraid, that’s something that we know [he can do]," Dominic Smith said. "We’re happy he was able to do it tonight."
Kevin Pillar added: "The numbers on the surface don’t look very good, but he’s given us some really good starts."
The Mets reached righthander Jake Arrieta for four runs in five innings. His ERA is 5.14.
Smith started a three-run rally in the fourth inning with a single, the Mets’ first hit, and scored on James McCann’s two-out single to center. Pillar contributed a two-run double later in the inning and Smith homered in the fifth.
That production from Smith — 2-for-3 with a walk — made Rojas look good. He was stuck in an 0-for-20 rut coming into the game, but Rojas moved him up to the No. 3 spot in the batting order in part because the Mets want him to see better pitches by hitting in front of Pete Alonso.
"Pete’s protection can help him to get some pitches, but he’s gotta do some things as well," Rojas said, referencing Smith’s better control of his lower body Monday. "He’s gotta make some adjustments. And I think he did tonight."
Said Smith, "It’s always pretty neat when you have a guy like Pete hit behind you."
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