For a while, sweating out the return of Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard didn’t seem like such a huge deal for the Mets.
Then Carrasco’s hamstring never seemed to be making much progress, and Syndergaard had to be shut down for six weeks. Still not a time to panic, necessarily. The Mets had coverage through the first four spots in the rotation, including a stellar top three, which felt like enough for the immediate future, as they entered Tuesday with the best ERA (2.82) in the majors.
But that was before David Peterson took the mound Tuesday night at Camden Yards and again looked non-competitive during a noisy 2 2⁄3 inning stay in the Mets’ eventual 10-3 loss to the Orioles.
Peterson, who was the last line of defense before the Mets’ revolving No. 5 spot that now belongs to Joey Lucchesi, has to be considered just as much of a question mark, with a 6.32 ERA after getting blistered for eight hits and four runs. He also was smacked especially hard, teeing up five rocket doubles, and barely hanging on before Pat Valaika’s two-run double — his second off Peterson — finally convinced manager Luis Rojas to retrieve the baseball.
Tuesday’s performance was bad enough. But when combined with his last start in Arizona, where Peterson recorded only one out while allowing five runs in the shortest stint of his young career, the evidence against him is snowballing. Peterson became the first Met unable to make it through three innings in consecutive starts since Steven Matz in 2018, but it appears he’ll survive Tuesday’s implosion to make his next turn at this level.
"Right now, yeah," Rojas said after Tuesday’s blowout. "That’s one place where we lack some guys."
Rojas was referring to the Mets’ starting depth. Shipping Peterson to Triple-A Syracuse to tighten things up might sound like a prudent plan if he’s going to get routinely knocked around up here. The Mets, however, don’t have the luxury of extra arms at the moment and instead have little choice but to hope Peterson can regain the form that enabled him to post a 3.44 ERA in 10 appearances (nine starts) last year as a rookie.
"I have seen a little bit more frustration right after some of these outings," Rojas said. "Just got to keep talking to him, motivating him. I think the poise is there and that’s what’s going to help him overcome things like this. The stuff is there. He just needs that command."
Under more normal circumstances, Peterson would be on shakier ground. But not with three doubleheaders coming up later this month, and 22 games in 20 days to wrap up June (33 games in 31 days to the All-Star break). The Mets are going to have to get creative to piece together enough pitching for that savage stretch, and you’d have to think Thomas Szapucki is going to be part of those plans at some point. Szapucki has a 2.05 ERA in four starts and one relief appearance at Triple-A Syracuse, with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings, so he’s certainly on the short list (along with the convenience of being on the 40-man roster).
Beyond that, we could fire up the Seth Lugo-as-starter debate all over again, but that doesn’t seem feasible after only recently getting him back from elbow surgery. Robert Gsellman, who let a 4-2 deficit balloon to 8-2, could always be pressed into a starting role, but even that seems extreme for now.
The Mets have been walking a tightrope for the season’s first two months, but still winning and in first place despite the dizzying injury total (the current list has dropped to 13, down from a season-high 17). The rotation has been the stabilizing force, headlined by the historic performance by Jacob deGrom and backed up by ace-like support from Marcus Stroman and Taijaun Walker. But it doesn’t take much for the whole operation to go sideways once a few deeper cracks surface.
Only a few months ago, the dream was a Mets’ super-rotation that featured Syndergaard and Carrasco behind deGrom, with Walker and Stroman bumping Peterson and whoever else remained at the back end. But with Carrasco’s rehab still in the early stages with a tentative return around the All-Star break, and Syndergaard hoping for September, the Mets are going to have some white-knuckle moments with their rotation over the remainder of this month as the innings pile up.
"We need to get him right — we need David Peterson," Rojas said.
The alternative is not something the Mets want to worry about at the moment.