There may be a storm brewing in Flushing, and no, we’re not talking about Hurricane Hermine, expected to arrive this weekend at Citi Field, along with the Nationals.
The cause of this potential turbulence? The collision of Thursday’s two destabilizing events, mainly Neil Walker’s departure for season-ending back surgery and another troubling effort by Jacob deGrom. He was battered again, this time by the Marlins in the Mets’ 6-4 loss at Citi Field.
Walker’s exit interview Thursday came as no surprise. We already knew he was a goner, thanks to Terry Collins’ big reveal the previous night. But the Mets had their fingers crossed for deGrom, who was coming off a seven-day siesta designed to wipe away any lingering fears over his 12.10 ERA from the past two starts.
The best way to alleviate the loss of Walker’s 23-homer bat is to focus on run prevention, which is where deGrom comes in. But he stayed for only five innings, a spotty affair muddied up by six hits, four walks and three runs. The Marlins had no difficulty barreling up his pitches, which again found too much of the plate.
Last week, blaming it on fatigue was a simple and comforting solution. What’s easier than prescribing rest? That apparently didn’t work, though. And despite immediately sidling up to trainer Ray Ramirez before heading up the clubhouse ramp, deGrom insisted it’s not a health issue.
“Everything’s fine,” he said. “I was frustrated with how I pitched. I just can’t throw the ball where I want right now. I’ve got to figure that out.”
Just because deGrom says he’s sound medically doesn’t necessary mean he’s OK, as illustrated by his performance during the past two weeks. And the same goes for the Mets, who had sort of a buzz kill watching deGrom falter after they beat the Marlins in the first three games, which gave them nine wins in 11 games. If deGrom doesn’t come up with some answers very soon, the Mets’ amped-up pursuit of the second wild card could stall.
“He’s a huge piece,” Collins said. “You can’t lose three-fifths of the rotation and be in good shape.”
Collins also was including Matt Harvey and Steven Matz in that mix, as the Long Island lefty remains in limbo with rotator-cuff irritation. The Mets re-energized their wild-card chase with the help of Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, but can they rely on an achy lineup to cover for a patchwork rotation?
It’s up to Collins to find the right combination on a nightly basis, and on Thursday night, that included Jay Bruce and the newly summoned Michael Conforto, back from his Las Vegas sabbatical. Collins chose to give Yoenis Cespedes (quadriceps) and Asdrubal Cabrera (knee) the night off, in part because of what he thought would be slick field conditions from the earlier rain showers. Cespedes struck out as a pinch hitter and Cabrera hit a two-run homer in his ninth-inning cameo, but the manager was unrepentant for his decision not to start them.
“If we overplay them,” Collins said, “we won’t have them for the rest of the season.”
With Conforto up and Cespedes a fixture in left, that leaves four outfielders for the other two spots and could put additional pressure on Bruce, who enteredThursday night batting .183 (17-for-93) with six RBIs in 26 games with the Mets. But he homered in his third at-bat and added a run-scoring single in the eighth, giving him as many RBIs in one night as he had in the previous 21 games.
Earlier this week, Collins reiterated his pledge from last season, when he promised to start his most consistent hitters, regardless of who that might be. It worked a year ago.
“You hit, you play,” Collins said, repeating his ’15 refrain. “We’re fighting tooth and nail to stay in the playoff race.”
Conforto doubled in his first at-bat last night, but as the tying run in the eighth, with the bases loaded and none out, he bounced back to the mound for a 1-2-3 double play. While we can’t call what’s going on with the Mets’ outfield any type of audition — there’s no time for that — Collins does have another option now that could lead to some hard choices in the days ahead.