The pitching meter is a very mixed bag for this week. Of course, the highlight is Jacob deGrom’s continued dominance, but outside of deGrom, the rotation that had been very solid entering the week faltered. Taijuan Walker—the only starter to pitch twice this week—had one strong outing and one that was less strong. The rest of the rotation struggled to varying degrees. As for the bullpen, the Mets’ high-leverage relievers were excellent this week, but the back end of the bullpen featured a couple of real clunkers. Sean Reid-Foley was the surprise bright spot in the latter group.
Those who protested an up arrow instead of a fireball for Jacob deGrom last week: do not despair. The fireball is back. And he earned every bit of it and more with his performance on Friday night. deGrom keeps reaching new heights and breaking new records with every start. On Friday, he pitched a complete game shutout, striking out fifteen (!!) batters and walking none. He became just the third pitcher ever to record at least fourteen strikeouts in three consecutive outings and set a record for most strikeouts in total through the first four outings of a season. He struck out the side twice. He gave up just two hits and one of them was a ball that should have been caught. As if that wasn’t enough, he had two hits and drove in the game’s first run as well. His season ERA is now 0.31 and his career ERA is 2.55, passing Tom Seaver for best all time in a Mets uniform.
While it is definitely unfair to expect the rest of the rotation to perform like deGrom, the rotation had been a strength of the team in the early going. This week saw Marcus Stroman falter for the first time in 2021, taking the loss in Saturday’s game. While he was certainly not helped by the umpiring and the defense, Saturday’s outing was an example of what happens when things go wrong for a contact pitcher like Stroman; everything found a hole. All told, he gave up five runs—four of them earned—on eight hits in four innings of work. He struck out four batters and walked two. Hopefully it’s just a blip for the Mets’ number two starter.
As a result of Stroman’s abbreviated outing, the Mets’ bullpen had to do some heavy lifting on Saturday. Since short outings by Mets starters were somewhat of a theme this week, the Mets cycled in a few fresh arms from the alternate site. One of them was Stephen Tarpley, whose job it was to eat innings in relief of Stroman. Unfortunately, he was unable to do that. In fact, he was unable to retire a single batter in his outing, which earns him a poop emoji this week. He walked a batter, gave up a single, walked another batter, and then hit a batter with a pitch to force in a run before Luis Rojas had seen enough.
Robert Gsellman was called upon to bail Tarpley out in Saturday’s game. He inherited a bases loaded situation and did allow a runner to score on a force out, but managed to hold the Nationals there and soak up three innings of mop-up duty without further damage. After barely being used at all prior to this week (his only appearance of the season before this week came on April 17), Gsellman appeared in three games this week. In the Mets’ 3-1 loss on Tuesday, Gsellman was able to bail out Taijuan Walker once things got out of control in the fourth, striking out the only batter he faced. Unfortunately, things did not go as well for Gsellman on Wednesday as they did in his other two outings this week. He was part of Wednesday’s parade of ineptitude, giving up four runs on four hits. But only two of those four runs were earned because of the Mets’ poor defense in the game. All told, it was an eventful, up-and-down week for Gsellman, who finally is starting to see action.
Gsellman was certainly not the only pitcher to be punished by the Cubs’ bats and Mets’ poor defense on Wednesday. David Peterson started the game and things did not go well for him. He lasted just 3 1⁄3 innings and gave up six runs, but only three of them were earned. Peterson faced the minimum for the first three innings, but everything unraveled in the fourth when the Cubs got on the board thanks to three consecutive one-out singles. Then, the defensive miscues began and Peterson was also unable to stop the bleeding and was pulled in favor of Gsellman, who inherited a mess of a situation and made it worse.
The side-arming righty Trevor Hildenberger was also lit up by the Cubs on Wednesday. All four of his runs, however, were earned. He walked the bases loaded in the sixth inning and gave up a grand slam to Javier Baez to blow the doors completely off the game. He also spent 44 pitches in the outing. With the not-quite-stretched-out Joey Lucchesi set to take the mound on Thursday, Hildenberger was promptly optioned to the alternate site in favor of a fresh arm.
That fresh arm was Sean Reid-Foley who dazzled in his first Mets appearance. Unfortunately because the Mets were walked off on Thursday, his outing probably won’t get talked about enough, but it was very good. He didn’t allow a single baserunner over his three innings of work and he struck out four batters. Reid-Foley’s bugaboo has always been his command, but the good command flashed on Thursday and the results were there. If he can keep it up, he will be an excellent weapon in long relief for the Mets.
Reid-Foley’s strong outing came in relief of Joey Lucchesi, who lasted just three innings in his second start of the season. He gave up three runs on two hits, striking out five and walking two batters. Unfortunately, Lucchesi has not seen as much success in his two starts as he did in his one relief outing and he was optioned to the alternate site on Friday when Stephen Tarpley was recalled. This made sense for the Mets, as they likely will not need a fifth starter again until early May and it’s possible Carlos Carrasco could be ready to slot back into the rotation at that point or soon after.
It was Edwin Díaz who ended up taking the loss on Thursday in extra innings, but circumstances were not exactly ideal for him to succeed. It was his second inning of work after pitching a scoreless ninth and he had to start the inning with a runner on second base. He didn’t help himself by hitting Matt Duffy with a pitch to lead things off. The runners were then advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt and Luis Rojas had to face the decision of whether to walk Eric Sogard and set up the double play with Jason Heyward at the plate or let Díaz try to get a key strikeout (something he has done pretty well so far this season). Rojas opted for the former and it did not end well. Heyward laced a walk-off single to end the game. But Díaz redeemed himself with an effortless 1-2-3 ninth in a non-save situation in yesterday’s victory.
The rest of the back end of the Mets bullpen has been excellent this week—Miguel Castro in particular. Castro appeared in three games this week and delivered 2 1⁄3 scoreless innings of work. He got a key out in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game to end a Cubs threat and could have perhaps pitched the ninth as well, but Rojas opted to go to Díaz instead. That was likely because Castro had already thrown an inning the day before in Wednesday’s lopsided loss once the game was already out of hand. He didn’t give up any hits in that outing, walking one batter and striking out two. He also worked a scoreless eighth ahead of Díaz in yesterday’s victory, working around a couple of hits and striking out three Nationals hitters. Castro has made himself indispensable to the Mets bullpen and holds a 2.57 ERA so far in 2021.
Aaron Loup and Jeurys Familia also both pitched well this week. Loup retired the only batter he faced in Wednesday’s loss via the strikeout. The lefty found himself somewhat hamstrung by the three-batter rule on Thursday when Luis Rojas puzzlingly chose to have him face Jake Marisnick to lead off the eighth inning of a tie game. Marisnick tripled, but Loup retired the next two batters and Castro came in to retire Contreras and end the threat. Familia pitched a scoreless inning in each of Tuesday and Saturday’s losses. He pitched the eighth inning on Tuesday, working around a hit and striking out a batter. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning on Saturday and struck out two batters.
Jacob Barnes had a bounce back week, putting together two scoreless appearances in the same games as Familia. He did the heavy lifting on Tuesday, pitching two scoreless innings in relief of Taijuan Walker with two strikeouts. He pitched a scoreless eighth inning in Saturday’s loss, working around a hit and striking out one.
Trevor May also pitched two scoreless innings in losing efforts (I’m sensing a theme here) this week, but they were both close games. On Tuesday, May tossed a hitless ninth with one strikeout and on Thursday, he kept the Cubs off the board in the bottom of the seventh after the Mets tied the game in the top of the frame, notching another strikeout in the process.
It was a tale of two starts for Taijuan Walker this week. Although he limited the damage to just three runs (two earned) over 3 2⁄3 innings in Tuesday’s start, it was a laborious outing for Walker. He struggled with his control, walking six batters. He made up for it by striking out seven, but he forced the bullpen to do some heavy lifting behind him, which they did so admirably. But ultimately the Mets offense could not break through against Jake Arrieta and Walker took the loss. By contrast, he earned his first win as a Met in yesterday’s game and went the deepest he has gone in any start so far, tossing seven shutout innings. Those innings did not come effortlessly and he was aided greatly by the Mets defense and some BABIP luck, but they were shutout innings nonetheless. He gave up three hits, walked three, and struck out four in the outing.