Short of Steve Cohen calling up the Wilpons and telling them to throttle back on Jacob deGrom’s usage with bids on the Mets due Monday, it’s hard to rationalize the scenario that played out with the franchise’s biggest asset.
We just assumed that deGrom, whose last turn was a week ago in Miami, would start in Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Marlins at Citi Field. Typically, the ace goes in Game 1, but with the lousy weather forecast, hanging around for the nightcap was fine, too (rain wound up interrupting the opener for 65 minutes).
And going by that schedule, deGrom would get a pair of seven-inning, bullpen-saving games, along with what we thought was a Sunday feature against the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole in the Bronx.
It all seemed perfect. Better odds of deGrom (along with the Mets) being rewarded with a victory for his Cy-quality efforts and everyone else getting what they wanted this weekend: the Frazier-Ali of pitching matchups (more on that later).
But that’s not what unfolded Tuesday. Imagine our surprise when manager Luis Rojas revealed that deGrom, sitting on a full five days’ rest because of the Mets’ quarantine shutdown, was now scheduled for Wednesday.
Supposedly, deGrom is fine. He’s already missed one start with a stuff neck — the MRI was negative as far as structural damage — and been bothered by a blister-ish “hot spot” on his pitching hand. But as Rojas unveiled his upcoming rotation, the matter-of-fact way he spoke of holding back deGrom didn’t make a ton of sense on the surface.
“Jake wants to throw all the time,” Rojas said before Tuesday’s Game 1. “He told me he could have gone today. But it’s good that he gets that in-between start routine, that he does his bullpen session, and then he’s able to go two days after.”
By all means, keep Jake on his schedule. Whatever he needs. Do everything possible to make sure deGrom is happy and healthy. But if the Mets’ ace really told the manager he was prepared to pitch Tuesday, don’t you have to take him up on the offer?
Otherwise, Rojas shouldn’t say it. Just roll with the plausible alibi of deGrom’s routine getting scrambled by the upheaval of two Mets testing positive last week in Miami. Since the team was put under quarantine, and prohibited from organized workouts, deGrom couldn’t throw off a mound until Monday. And if that was his only bullpen session, then we can understand why deGrom was delayed the extra day.
“It’s probably the best thing for him,” Rojas said.
Based on the neck scare, and all the other little physical stuff that pops up with deGrom every once in a while, it’s not unusual that the Mets would take the more cautionary route. Under this plan, if deGrom stays on a five-day rotation, he’ll make only six starts rather than seven (with only 34 games left).
Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot in the big picture. But it’s still 14.3% less deGrom for a 12-14 team that currently has a 69% chance of making the playoffs (according to FanGraphs projections).
Going on the presumption that deGrom is fully healthy, this feels like a missed opportunity. A gigantic one. The Mets are on one of those extremely rare stretches in which they’re actually winning his starts, going 4-1 so far. And if that sounds like an idiotic observation, consider that the Mets — entering this season — previously had been eight games under .500 (28-36) on deGrom’s start days since 2018, despite a 2.05 ERA, 0.941 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 during that period.
Factor in this year’s five starts, and deGrom has trimmed his ERA to 2.04 and WHIP to 0.938 in that prolonged span. Also, he’s averaged 6.5 innings in those 69 starts, which is all the more reason to turn him loose on these seven-inning doubleheaders. With any luck, deGrom could end up throwing a complete game, and that’s a win-win for all parties involved.
Not only can deGrom earn himself a W without any risk of the bullpen fouling it up, the Mets get to preserve their relief corps for the other half of that particular doubleheader, as well as the torturous road ahead: 34 games in 34 days. Seeing deGrom’s frustration the past two years, this seven-inning rule change unique to 2020 figured to be a great fit. The higher percentage of deGrom in his starts, the better.
As for the deGrom-Cole duel this year, it wasn’t meant to be. Not only was deGrom knocked off that collision course Tuesday, but a few hours later, thunderstorms in Atlanta washed out Cole’s start, meaning that he’ll miss the Mets this weekend, as well.
From the moment the ink dried on Cole’s nine-year, $324-million contract, it’s been the tasty subplot to the Subway Series. But now the wait continues, and deGrom’s next start will be just another ordinary one Wednesday against the Marlins.
Too bad. After thinking about what might have been, it’s a buzzkill.