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Taijuan Walker struggles again as Mets lose to Atlanta in series finale

New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker delivers

New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker delivers against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

If there was any remaining doubt about why the Mets say they want and need more pitching, consider their 6-3 loss to Atlanta on Thursday.

Righthander Taijuan Walker got rocked, again, for five runs in five innings. That was his third stinker of a start in a row since the All-Star break, causing his ERA to balloon from 2.50 to 3.71.

That his latest ugliness came in the Mets’ final game before the trade deadline, which is 4 p.m. Friday, only underscored the front office’s oft-stated primary objective: Obtain rotation help.

As of Thursday afternoon, team president Sandy Alderson, acting general manager Zack Scott and the rest of their baseball-operations department did not appear close to closing a deal, though that came with the usual cliché-but-true caveat: All that can change with just one phone call.

 

The loss also meant the Mets (54-47) dropped the five-game series. But they maintained their hold on first place in the NL East, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Phillies (51-51) and four ahead of Atlanta (51-52).

With the deadline about 24 hours away, Mets players weren’t ready to make any public calls for reinforcements, echoing a sentiment expressed by manager Luis Rojas earlier in the week.

"If everybody gets back and healthy and we’re firing on all cylinders, I think that’s going to be just as big if not bigger than getting a trade," Pete Alonso said. "I don’t know if we get a bat. I don’t know if we do anything. We have so many great pieces right now. I think getting everybody on the field should be the priority."

Walker added: "We’ve got a good team here. If we do something, cool. If not, I think we have enough pieces here — and we’re getting guys back — that I think we’ll be fine."

Health is the tricky part. The Mets finally have a stable-seeming five-man rotation as of Carlos Carrasco’s team debut Friday. Jacob deGrom is due back in August, Noah Syndergaard in September. Francisco Lindor is expected to return in mid-to-late August.

If everyone is available — big if — the Mets can stack up against anybody.

"Getting an arm or getting a bat is great, but I think the No. 1 thing is getting healthy," Alonso said. "It’s going to be scary once everything in our lineup and our pitching staff lines up."

Looking to re-find his All-Star form, Walker held Atlanta to one baserunner (a walk) through three innings. But then regression returned in the fourth via a two-run home run from Austin Riley and a solo shot — scorched into the upper deck in rightfield — by Abraham Almonte.

Atlanta strung together four singles, none of them hit particularly hard, for two more runs in the fifth.

Walker, the Mets’ second-best starter most of the season, has allowed 16 earned runs in 9 1/3 innings since the All-Star break. That makes for a 15.43 ERA.

Rojas and Walker framed this outing as progress over the previous two.

"Honestly, I felt really good today," Walker said, blaming the homers on the mental issue of his lack of belief in the pitches he chose to throw. "I thought everything was really good today. I really just thought it was two pitches."

Alonso provided the Mets’ offensive highlight: a two-run homer crushed into the third deck in leftfield in the fifth inning.

That ended the outing of lefthander Drew Smyly, who gave up three runs in four innings-plus. It could have been more, but the Mets stranded two runners in scoring position during Smyly’s 31-pitch opening inning.

The other reality relevant to the trade deadline: The Mets scored 11 runs in five games against Atlanta. J.D. Davis — whose position, third base, is an area of potential upgrade — was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Thursday and 1-for-15 with seven strikeouts in the series.

"It’s not typical to see J.D. just swinging and missing at so many breaking balls in one series," Rojas said. "He had an idea of what they were doing to him and still he was missing a lot of pitches."

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