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Will Joey Lucchesi be able to find success after Tommy John surgery?

[Insert churve pun here]

MLB: New York Mets at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get this out of the way: Joey Lucchesi did not look good in his two spring appearances with the Mets. In just two innings of work, he gave up four earned runs, walked three, and struck out just one. For those who thought that maybe Lucchesi would be the replacement for José Quintana in the first half, Lucchesi’s Grapefruit League performance closed the door on that real quick.

However, two spring innings mean very little, especially when the player is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Lucchesi remains an intriguing arm in the Mets’ system, and one that will be given plenty of low-stress opportunities to get into shape.

Drafted by the Padres in 2016, Lucchesi is a left-handed starting pitcher who doesn’t exactly pop the radar gun, throwing a pair low-90s fastballs and, of course, the ‘churve,’ a unique curveball/changeup combo pitch. He came over to the Mets in a multi-team trade that saw the Mets give up prospect Endy Rodriguez, someone all three major prospect lists place in the Top 100 in baseball, but who has appeared in just three games above AA thus far.

In 2021, Lucchesi made eight starts and three relief appearances for the Mets, putting up a 90 ERA+ and a 4.46 ERA. He struggled mightily early in the season, with the nadir coming on May 3 when he gave up six earned runs, including two home runs, before getting pulled with two outs in the second inning. However, later in May, Lucchesi started to find his footing, and from May 22-June 18, Lucchesi started five games and never gave up more than one run in any appearance. A 1.45 ERA from May 22 onward made it seem like, though clear that the reputation that he shouldn’t face a lineup thrice was pretty well founded, Lucchesi would have a role on the club.

Also around this time, his Mets teammates started using the ‘church’ hand motion - essentially a circle change grip repurposed into an ‘okay’ hand symbol - as a celebratory gesture. It would prove to be a fleeting one, as in late June, it was revealed that Lucchesi had a ‘significant’ tear in his UCL, and would require Tommy John surgery. This put Lucchesi on the shelf for the rest of 2021 and all but eight games in the minors in 2022, tossing just 12 and two-thirds innings across three levels.

Because his stuff was never exactly overpowering, it remains to be seen if Tommy John surgery took enough off of Lucchesi’s fastball to render him more hittable, or if it took some of the bite off of the churve. If that is the case, it seems unlikely that Lucchesi throws many more innings on a Major League mound.

However, as a left-handed starter with an interesting arsenal, if he can stay healthy and show that there is something left in the tank, he will likely see more opportunities to pitch for the Mets in 2023. With an aged starting staff, the Mets will likely need to provide days off for the likes of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, and so don’t be surprised if Lucchesi takes some of those innings, along with folks like Tylor Megill and Elieser Hernández.