When the Mets acquired Joey Lucchesi in January, it was as part of a three-team trade that also involved the Padres and Pirates. It was a shrewd low-risk/high reward move, since in the deal the Mets only gave up prospect Endy Rodriguez and got back major-league quality depth for the rotation.
The twenty-eight-year old southpaw never put up eye-popping numbers with the Padres and was optioned to the alternate site for much of the 2020 season after getting off to a lackluster start in San Diego. Before the season, the Mets were in need of rotation help since Noah Syndergaard would not ready for Opening Day, and with very little quality pitching in the upper minors, Lucchesi and his intriguing “churve” seemed like the type of move the Mets should be making.
He made the team out of camp but his first appearance came out of the bullpen in a blowout loss to the Phillies. He then moved into the rotation and his next three starts did not go well. He did not make it past the third inning in any of the starts and he seemed like more of a liability than a solid addition to the rotation. Then, the Mets got creative and pitched openers in his starts which produced mixed results. It worked against the Diamondbacks; it did not against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Then something clicked. He got moved back into being a traditional starter and did not give up more than one run in any of his starts for the rest of the year. That Rays game split his year into two seasons. Up to and including his appearance against Tampa on May 15, he pitched 15.2 innings, had a 9.19 ERA, and opponents were hitting .306/.366/.581 against him. From May 22 until June 18, he had a sparkling 1.45 ERA in 18.2 innings pitched and now opponents were hitting just .215/.282/.323. He was very much an integral piece of the rotation and kept the Mets in ballgames as they struggled to score runs. He even faced his old team twice and held a powerful San Diego lineup to just one run in both starts.
With the sounds of the Sopranos theme blasting in Citi as he warmed up, and with the team adopting the “churve” celebration in an attempt to get the scoreboard operators to recognize his hybrid pitch, Lucchesi seemed to be settling into his new team nicely and was a fun addition to the rotation. Which is why it came as a bit of a shock when it was announced he needed Tommy John surgery and would be out for the rest of the season. As we have seen, the road back from Tommy John is difficult for every pitcher that navigates it. He won’t be a free agent until 2025, but given the 18-month timeline for recovery, Lucchesi will probably not throw a pitch for the team until August 2022 at the earliest.