It’s time to unleash the churve.
That would be Joey Lucchesi’s signature pitch — a changeup/ curve that now has its own celebratory hand gesture and scoreboard iconographic — and for four straight starts, it has served him especially well.
It certainly kept the Padres at bay for five innings Sunday afternoon before Lucchesi was pulled after 72 pitches (the bullpen eventually blew the game as the Mets lost, 7-3).
When the lefty was asked if he could have gone longer, he answered with a resounding yes.
"I want to pitch as long as I can," he said. "I’m not tired. I wasn’t tired at the time and I told him [Luis Rojas] I wanted to keep going, but you’ve got to respect the manager’s decisions. That’s all I can do. I told him I wanted to keep pitching, but I guess I’ve just got to keep showing that I can get through the order three times and I can pitch, man."
He can pitch, man. And he should be allowed to do it for longer.
On Sunday, he ended up allowing just one run — a first-inning mistake that Tommy Pham deposited over the centerfield fence for a home run — along with four hits, six strikeouts and a walk.
Despite that, the Mets have been tentative with him, not wanting to expose Lucchesi a third time through the order. The five innings he pitched Sunday amounted to his longest outing of the season. But after watching Lucchesi compile a 1.56 ERA in his last four (short) starts, Rojas and company should start putting significant thought into giving him what he wants.
After all, he proved he could be a significant part of a working rotation with the Padres in 2019, when he led the staff in strikeouts, wins and innings.
And then there’s the fact that this team’s pitching, as good as it’s been, lacks depth, thanks to ongoing, ever-lengthening recovery periods needed by Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard as they rehab injuries.
David Peterson, meanwhile, has looked lost for weeks, and the trade deadline — and likely any potential reinforcements — feels far, far away.
Frankly, it seems as if the Mets don’t really have the luxury of keeping the training wheels on.
We’ll allow, though, that Rojas’ reasons for pulling his starter Sunday were understandable.
The bench was short two players because Jonathan Villar was dealing with a family matter and Billy McKinney is nursing a sore knee, and Rojas was in "score now" mode. When Lucchesi was removed in the bottom of the fifth, his spot was coming up in the order and the Mets were hoping to extend a 2-1 lead. He also was set to face the toe-curling heart of the Padres’ lineup in the sixth: Pham, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado.
Granted, the Mets probably would have been better off leaving him in, given that they weren’t able to build on their lead before the bullpen fell apart. With two outs in the seventh, Jeurys Familia walked in the tying run and Jacob Barnes gave up a grand slam by Tatis and a solo shot by Machado. But, you know, hindsight and all that.
"We wanted to score and connect the third time through against [starter Chris] Paddack," Rojas said. "We wanted to connect and see if we could build up as the guys were starting to pick up better against him. It didn’t go that way, but we wanted to score . . . We felt like we weren’t going to win 2-1."
All right, fine. But that still doesn’t quite explain why Rojas sounded so tentative when he was asked if it’s time to free Lucchesi from the confines of his regular four or five innings.
"That could happen," Rojas said. "He’s a guy who could well get there and go a third time through the lineup. The game is going to speak to us when we make that decision."
The game is speaking.
It says unleash the churve.