Carlos Carrasco lasted only 1 2/3 innings in his latest...

Carlos Carrasco lasted only 1 2/3 innings in his latest rehab start, but at least his issues weren't physical. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Mets manager Luis Rojas outwardly puzzled about what to do about Sunday’s game against the Pirates. Would it be another bullpen game? Would he even consider asking Jacob deGrom to start on short rest? Or maybe, quietly, he was hoping that a fifth starter would magically materialize ahead of first pitch, the stopgap the Mets have been looking for for what feels like most of the season.

It’s not an easy job, doing this over and over. Looking for answers when bodies keep going on the injured list with the trade deadline still two weeks away. Things are so precarious that Rojas was palpably relieved when Jerad Eickhoff, the long man they designated for assignment in June, cleared waivers.

But then, a vision on the mound: Carlos Carrasco — whom social-media users mused would go the way of Jed Lowrie and disappear to the injured list ether forever — taking the rubber at Citi Field.

What’s more, he looked sharp in his simulated game and he looked happy. He tried to field a ball despite the hamstring injury that’s taken months to heal. When he was done with his six batters, he hugged his teammates. He exchanged handshakes. His grin threatened to take over his entire face.

The news got better from there. Rojas said the club is so pleased with Carrasco that it’s believed that he might need only one rehab start before rejoining the team. A late-July return, which seemed like a long shot when acting general manager Zack Scott mentioned it last month, potentially could be mid-July.

"He looked really good," Rojas stressed. "It would be huge. As you guys know, we’re in need for starters and we had a couple guys already going down."

The Mets already have lost Corey Oswalt, David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi and Robert Gsellman to the injured list. A healthy Carrasco is absolutely huge, especially in a division as impotent as the National League East. The Mets are in first place as much because of the failures of their opponents as their own achievements.


And If Carrasco is anything like the pitcher he was with Cleveland in 2020, the one with the 2.91 ERA, he is a game-changer. Rojas said his funky motion makes him a pest to opposing hitters, so much so that James McCann said he was among the pitchers he least liked facing when McCann played in the American League.

That, plus a possible return of Noah Syndergaard, who was spotted jogging in the outfield Saturday before the doubleheader with the Pirates, and owner Steve Cohen’s open purse strings, make for a tantalizing picture.

Scott has made no secret of the fact that the Mets will be aggressively pursuing pitching before the trade deadline and could even be amenable to a player with a longer-term contract if the fit is right. If all goes according to plan, the days of laboring over who will pitch next might soon be over.

The result could very well be a team with the potential to run away with the division. Entering Saturday, they already had the third-best ERA in baseball at 3.40. Their hitting has picked up of late (though that wasn’t at all apparent in their 6-2 loss to the lowly Pirates in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader). And they expect J.D. Davis’ bat back imminently. Jonathan Villar, recently returned from a calf injury, hasn’t missed a beat, hitting three homers in two games Friday and Saturday.

Which is to say Mets fans have reason to be excited. And they have reason to think that this first half is just a taste of what could be a very dangerous ballclub come the second half.

After all, if Carrasco can come back from this seemingly endless injury — if he can prove he isn’t Jed Lowrie 2.0 — well, then, what else can happen?


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