Mets manager Buck Showalter walks to the dugout after a...

Mets manager Buck Showalter walks to the dugout after a pitching change during the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners in an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Sunday, May 15, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Mets GM Billy Eppler spent the bulk of a pregame media briefing Tuesday talking about the absence of Jacob deGrom, the injured two-time Cy Young winner who has yet to throw a pitch for the team this season.

DeGrom’s incremental recovery remains an obsession, and rightfully so. For the record, it doesn’t sound like he’s all that close to climbing a mound any any time soon. And once deGrom does get there, figure on another six weeks from that point, so any thoughts of a return before the All-Star break (July 18) seem to be fading.

“I think one of the things we’ve tried to be consistent with here is just not setting timelines on people,” Eppler said.

But the Mets, to put it bluntly, aren’t holding their breath. They have games to win, and more pressing issues, with a few added to the pile during Tuesday’s doubleheader split with the Cardinals at Citi Field.

After relying mostly on subs Trevor Williams, Travis Jankowski and Dominic Smith for a 3-1 victory in Game 1, the Mets had to remove their leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo in the seventh inning after fouling a pitch off his right thigh. They also had to watch the slumping Francisco Lindor, their $341-million shortstop, whiff for the final out to strand the tying run at second base in a 4-3 loss in Game 2.

Nimmo’s problem could be temporary. X-rays were negative and the immediate diagnosis was nothing more serious than a bruised quad. But Nimmo also has a history of lingering ailments, so to believe his prediction of returning to Wednesday’s lineup might be premature.

“It feels all right now,” Nimmo said afterward. “Just got a lump on it. If I feel I can play, I need to play.”

 

Lindor’s struggles are only intensifying that urgency. Since hitting .313 on April 23, Lindor has plummeted, batting .160 (13-for-81) over the next 20 games, including his 1-for-7 in Tuesday’s doubleheader. That’s impossible for a division-leading team to absorb from the No. 3 spot, and Lindor taking wild hacks while going down on four pitches to Giovanny Gallegos in the ninth was a troubling sight.

“I’m working, I’m doing what it takes,” Lindor said. “It’s just part of the game, too. Pitchers have nice cars, too.”

But the Mets are the only team with a $341-million shortstop, and his recent plunge is definitely a factor in their 10-9 record over the past 19 games. Nimmo, Jeff McNeil and a streaky Pete Alonso can’t keep shouldering most of the load for the sputtering offense -- especially if Nimmo may need a few days for his leg to heal.

“There’s no more pressure on Francisco,” Nimmo said. “We take this as a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

Since the homestand began Friday, over the span of three days, the Mets lost James McCann (wrist surgery), Tylor Megill (biceps tendinitis) and their first series (to the Mariners) out of 11 to start the season.

Further complicating Tuesday’s makeup (from Monday’s preemptive rainout) was the heart-breaking news that Starling Marte had to bolt suddenly on bereavement leave for the passing of the grandmother who raised him. Even hitting coach Eric Chavez returned home for a few days to help his son through knee surgery.

Of those staying behind Tuesday, the Mets opted for the middle reliever Williams to fill-in for Megill’s Game 1 start and once again called on Jankowski -- the Stony Brook Hall of Famer -- to shore up the outfield.

On paper, this wasn’t an ideal matchup for Buck Showalter & Co., with the Cardinals starting Miles Mikolas (1.49 ERA) against a depleted Mets’ lineup, as well as Buck trying to squeeze as many pitches as possible out of Williams with 18 innings on tap for the evening. If there was an L waiting, Game 1 felt like it.

But Williams tamed the Cardinals with four scoreless innings (six strikeouts), the opportunistic Jankowski drove in the first run with a fielder’s choice groundout and Smith, who was hitting .177, teamed up with McNeil for the other two RBIs. Smith snapped an 0-for-20 skid with his second-inning single (he scored on Jankowski’s grounder).

“It’s a testament to what Billy has done with the team putting together a roster and what Buck has done as a manager plugging guys in,” Williams said. “I think guys know what their job is and guys love doing their job here no matter what.”

Sounds simple enough. And by winning Tuesday’s opener, the Mets improved to 12-1 after a loss, the only back-to-back defeats coming more than a month ago (April 10-11). That doesn’t happen by accident. It comes from establishing a high level of consistency, which the Mets have been able to achieve despite patching a number of recent holes.

But they could use a few less of them for the winning to continue, including the very expensive one at shortstop lately.