On May 30, Kodai Senga pitched what remains his best game as a Met when he shut out the Phillies for seven innings on one hit with no walks and nine strikeouts in a 2-0 victory at Citi Field.
At that point, after 10 big-league starts equally split between home and away, Senga had a 1.20 ERA at Citi Field and a 6.12 ERA on the road.
“I think part of the reason is the long travel that we have to go through,” Senga said after that game, “and that’s an adjustment that I need to make.”
A footnote from May 30: Senga spoke to the media not in front of his locker, as he usually does, but in an area with more open space across the clubhouse. This was because the Mets had just returned from a road trip and Senga’s locker and the one next to it were filled with boxes.
Inside those boxes? Bedding. Pillows. Pillowcases. Sheets. Maybe even a duvet or dust ruffle.
Most of the items shipped to him were for his New York home, Senga said on Monday, but “I also have stuff to take on the road as well.”
Players taking some creature comforts with them for the 81-game away schedule is not unusual. But is it normal for players to strip off hotel bedding in favor of their own?
Shohei Ohtani, Senga’s Japanese countryman, not only takes his own bedding on the road but has a custom-made pillow and portable mattress. Ohtani, who has a sponsorship deal with a Japanese bedding company, said he’s a daily napper as part of his training routine.
Senga’s road ERA is down to a more respectable 4.14 in 10 starts to go with his 2.63 ERA at home. On Sunday night at Citi Field, he improved to 9-6, 3.30 overall as he threw six innings and allowed three runs in the Mets’ 7-6 victory over Atlanta.
Senga, speaking through an interpreter before the Mets hosted Pittsburgh on Monday, would not go as far as to credit his personalized pillowcases, etc., for his improved numbers on the road — although he did say “I’m able to get consistent sleep” because of his expanded travel bag.
“I think it’s more the general things of how I’ve gotten used to pitching over in the States, the routine that I have to go through now,” Senga said. “How well I did at home early in the season, it was just by chance. As the season gets later and later, I was able to stabilize myself and my routine, and I think that’s why my numbers have gotten better on the road.”
All season, the Mets have marveled at how Senga has adjusted to pitching for a new team in a new country with a different baseball than the one he used for 11 seasons in Japan — and, until a little more than a week ago, without his family.
Senga’s young daughter and son came over from Japan for the first time this season and got to see him beat the Cubs at Citi Field on Aug. 7
Since then, Senga has been regularly throwing batting practice in the outfield to the tykes in a scene that breaks every record for adorableness.
Said Pete Alonso: “I think for him — that language barrier and culture shock being away from his family — it definitely takes a toll. But he’s been adjusting so well. Kodai has just like totally embraced the language, embraced the city, embraced the culture of a totally different country. There’s such a human element to this. Seeing his kids and seeing his family, I’m sure that that meant the world to him.”
Senga was typically reserved when asked about pitching in front of his kids, joking, “I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of them.”
In 2024, as the roster stands now, Senga will enter the second year of his five-year, $75 million contract as the Mets’ No. 1 starter. It’s another adjustment he’ll have to make after starting his rookie season behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander on the depth chart.
But the Mets are convinced that Senga can handle anything thrown his way — whether it’s potentially starting on Opening Day or a lumpy hotel mattress or learning a new language (one that Alonso says Senga already is better at than he has let on publicly).
“Kodai’s English is getting extremely good,” Alonso said. “He won’t tell you that because he’s too bashful. He’s come a long way from where he was at the start. He’s a great teammate and he is such a positive and it’s infectious. I’m so happy he’s with us.”