Everyone says baseball is a business, but it never feels quite so much like a business as it does on days like Saturday. Guy gets called up to pitch, guy pitches his heart out, guy gets handed his suitcase with a “thank you very much” and gets shipped back to the minors. Hope you didn’t unpack because the car leaves in a few.
Now, we can’t say with certainty that’s exactly how David Peterson’s evening went after he pitched in Game 1 of the Mets' 8-5 win over Atlanta, but the framework was similar. The big lefthander tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings only to get optioned to Syracuse around the same time the gates opened for Game 2. It was a logical move, the smart one, but in a change of pace, it wasn’t quite so much of a downer as that sort of thing usually is.
It isn’t only that Peterson is expected back soon enough, it’s that Saturday’s game also highlighted a very pressing need, and one that Peterson seems very well-suited to take over. With Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom back, the rotation is more than fine, but the bullpen needs shoring up — the same bullpen that had Buck Showalter playing whack-a-mole with Atlanta’s lineup Saturday afternoon.
And you know what really helps? A 6-6 lefthander who, somewhat inexplicably, nearly hit 99-mph with his sinker in the first inning.
“Yeah, I heard,” Peterson said with a smirk when he was told about the eye-popping number. Was it real? “I think so. If the gun said it."
If the gun said it, indeed. And look, if the radar gun was accurate, there’s every possibility that it was an aberration: Peterson has averaged 93.0-mph on his sinker this year, and just 93.3 on his fastball, but Saturday also heralded a season-best 96.5-mph on his four-seamer, the result of three straight years in which his velocity has ticked incrementally.
“We’ll go back through it,” Showalter said of the pitch. “I hope [it’s real]. I don’t know, do I hope so?”
You do if you want him out of the bullpen, especially if he’s throwing it like Saturday, when the pitch painted the black and was incorrectly called for a ball.
“OK, I do,” Showalter conceded. “We always thought about it, if he ever just let it [air out] a little bit, there might be some more there.”
Of course, starting and pitching out of the bullpen are two very different animals, but both Peterson and Tylor Megill, who’s expected to return from injury in late August or early September, seem downright amped by the possibility. Success there will also help erase a disappointing trade deadline return for general manager Billy Eppler.
It was late July, a week and a half before the deadline, when Eppler shipped off Colin Holderman to the Pirates with what amounted to a sly wink. Yes, the Mets were high on Holderman, he said, but Daniel Vogelbach was too good to pass up, and the reliever market? Robust, he called it.
In other words, the Mets would have plenty of arms to choose from. No need to mourn Holderman too much.
But baseball likes to laugh at well-laid plans, and the Mets did not, in fact, have plenty of arms to choose from.
Aug. 2 ticked by, and Eppler acquired a single reliever in righthander Mychal Givens. It left the Mets with an unmet need, increasingly glaring as Showalter danced around Atlanta’s lineup with the knowledge that Jacob deGrom is expected to throw only about six innings Sunday.
Where the Mets could have used a lefthander out of the 'pen in the eighth during Game 1, Showalter was instead forced to use Adam Ottavino for 1 1/3 innings, the veteran shimmying through trouble on what appeared to be grit and spite alone. The goal, Showalter said, was to save Edwin Diaz for a potential Game 2 situation.
Diaz was not saved.
Instead, Yoan Lopez, called up for the doubleheader, came into the ninth with a six-run lead, gave up two runs (eventually three) and left two in scoring position with one out, and signaled the last set of trumpets Showalter wanted to hear. (What did we say about well-laid plans?)
“I’m ready to take that job,” Peterson said of the bullpen role. And could shorter appearances mean more of what we saw on Saturday — Mets staff eyeing the radar guy, wondering “really?”
“I think so,” Peterson said. “I think it’s a little different. Being in a one-inning to an extent versus starting, you want to keep that same velocity from the start. It’s not like I’m going to go to the bullpen and try to throw harder. I’m going to go and execute pitches and get guys out and if the velo goes up, the velo goes up.”
Either way, the idea had to make the ride back to the minors a little extra sweet. Or go a little faster, as the case may be.