WASHINGTON — The simple act of Jacob deGrom taking the mound Friday night, as scheduled, was a victory in itself for the reeling Mets, regardless of what happened afterward.
They desperately needed someone to stabilize a rotation that had spun out of control this past week, first with Noah Syndergaard’s biceps tendinitis, then Robert Gsellman’s drubbing by the Braves, and finally Matt Harvey’s meltdown, as an emergency fill-in for Thor, which he subsequently blamed on not being “physically prepared” to do.
The drama-to-domination ratio (DR/DO) for this pitching staff already is way out of whack and there’s still two days left in April. It’s hard enough to sort through this mess to get the gory details correct for a column. Imagine how Terry Collins must feel, trying to figure out who’s going to start on a daily basis.
“I’ve told you guys a 100 times — this is not a perfect world we live in,” Collins said Friday afternoon. “We’ve got to make adjustments.”
Midway through March, the Mets had seven starters. Then five by Opening Day. And this week? We’re not exactly sure. Was Syndergaard’s tendinitis serious? Is there something wrong with the listless Gsellman? Can Harvey pitch every other day? We’ve stopped asking about Seth Lugo and Steven Matz as both still are rehabbing balky elbows.
So after 24 hours grilling Mets’ personnel on who knew what and when they knew it, deGrom provided a refreshing palate cleanser Friday night by merely showing up at Nationals Park ready to pitch. No intrigue, no aching body parts, no can he or can’t he. And what deGrom did for seven innings, by striking out 12 and holding the Nats in check for a white-knuckle Mets’ 7-5 victory, was something they had been begging for.
After losing six straight, and 10 of 11, the Mets were crying out for a stopper. In their loaded rotation, that shouldn’t be so difficult to find. But with the season only a month old, that’s where they are, frantically groping for life preservers. Is it any wonder Collins sent deGrom back out for the seventh inning with his pitch count at 101? Evidently, the post-surgery training wheels are off, relocated ulnar nerves be damned.
What choice did the Mets have? In the second inning, deGrom didn’t look like he’d be around very long after teeing up home runs to both Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters that vaporized the Mets’ early 2-0 lead, their first in 57 2/3 innings. But after stranding a pair in the third, deGrom retired 13 of the next 15, striking out eight along the way. He appeared to get stronger against a Nats team that was leading the majors in nearly every offensive category, including runs scored (139), batting average (.284) and OPS (.842).
This was the very definition of putting the Mets on his back. And once Travis d’Arnaud’s second home run nudged the Mets ahead, 5-3, in the fourth inning, deGrom clung to that lead like a bulldog to a bone. Bumping up against his ceiling in that seventh, deGrom required 11 pitches for the exclamation point, on three fly-ball outs. And when Curtis Granderson helped him big-time with a diving catch on the final sinking liner, deGrom faced him as he walked off the mound, clapping his glove to hand to give his teammate a standing ovation.
Granderson’s catch was a beauty. And d’Arnaud couldn’t have picked a more crucial night for his first multi-homer game to produce a career-best five RBIs. But deGrom, as we’ve seen so many times in the past, willed himself to a victory that felt extremely important to a Mets’ team in danger of capsizing long before Memorial Day. Now with three straight games of double-digit Ks, deGrom matched a streak last done in 1992, by David Cone.
The Mets aren’t clear of the icebergs yet. They still have their fingers crossed on Syndergaard, whose Friday bullpen session apparently green-lighted him for Sunday, even after all that biceps hysteria. Earlier in the week, Sydnergaard told the trainer he couldn’t lift his arm, and yet still got testy with the media when they asked about his status.
Just another day in the soap opera that is the Mets’ rotation. Thankfully, deGrom spared everyone from another night of it.