No worries. Jacob deGrom says he feels “fine.” Only from where we sit, that’s hardly encouraging news after the Cardinals cruised to an 8-1 win Wednesday night by knocking him silly.
Maybe deGrom is using another definition of the word we’re not familiar with, because what’s transpired the past two times he’s stepped on a mound is the polar opposite of fine. And the Mets can’t be all that comfortable about what’s gone down, either.
Wednesday night, the Cardinals throttled deGrom as if he were some nervous rookie freshly flown in from Triple-A Las Vegas. Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter drilled his sixth pitch of the game for a long home run, and deGrom served up two more, one to Randal Grichuk in the fourth and Stephen Piscotty an inning later.
All told, deGrom allowed 12 hits — coming off the 13 the Giants dented him for last Thursday — and that’s not fine. That’s alarming, like hair-on-fire panic, if you’re the Mets and trying to keep a foothold in this wild-card race. Just when deGrom seemed to establish himself as the rotation’s ace, the compass pointing them toward October, he’s wobbled badly off course, much like his pitches, which he keeps putting on a tee.
“It’s hard to get results when you throw everything down the middle,” deGrom said.
Until recently, that’s never been his problem. Even when deGrom wasn’t at his peak velocity-wise, he still was a master at locating pitches, which separated him from the pure power of Noah Syndergaard or the versatile weaponry of Matt Harvey. It’s what made deGrom special.
What he’s doing now, however, is ordinary. And this is a very bad time for deGrom to be ordinary, with the Mets falling back to 4 1⁄2 games behind the Cardinals for the second wild card. In his last two starts, deGrom has been tagged for 13 runs and 25 hits, with his ERA climbing from 2.29 to 2.96. The worst part? He had nothing to pin this lapse on.
“I honestly don’t know why,” deGrom said. “Everything is getting hit out of the park or off the wall.”
The most obvious answer is the one that he doesn’t want to cop to, even after Terry Collins floated the F-word a few minutes before him — fatigue. Collins gave him an extra day after the Giants debacle, believing rest would solve the problem. Clearly, it didn’t, and the idea of possibly shutting deGrom down for a longer period, such as skipping a turn, is not a very appealing solution at this particular moment.
With Jonathon Niese off the grid because of Thursday’s knee surgery, the Mets are down to Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman propping up the back end of their rotation. Lugo goes in today’s series finale at Busch Stadium and Gsellman is slotted for Sunday against the Phillies at Citi. The games the Mets are supposed to win — or at least be most competitive — are the other three each week, and deGrom may not be capable of answering the bell.
When asked if giving deGrom a more extended breather made sense, Collins replied, “Yeah, but I’m not sure where we’re going to get another pitcher. We’re running out of bodies.”
As unsettling as it is to see deGrom fail in spectacular fashion, it’s also not unprecedented. He went through a similar spell last season, around the exact same time. During a five-start span, from Aug. 24 through Sept. 15, a fading deGrom went 1-2 with a 6.41 ERA, surrendering 36 hits over 26 2/3 innings. Opposing teams batted .330 against him with an .893 OPS. The Mets feared they were losing deGrom then, too. But after giving him a 12-day sabbatical, deGrom rebounded to become a force again in the playoffs, and pitched one of the franchise’s gutsiest performances in out-dueling Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium.
The issue currently facing the Mets, however, is that resting him now would likely mean neither deGrom nor anyone else will be pitching in October this year. But pushing him at this pace could be fruitless, too. And inhumane if he’s truly on fumes right now.