The first series of 2023 is in the books for the Amazins, and the finale was a big one for one main reason: Kodai Senga. The Japanese importee made his major league debut today, and if this first game was any indication, the Mets have a lot to look forward to from the former NPB ace. An impressive pitching performance from him, combined with a wonderful day off the bench from Tommy Pham, resulted in a 5-1 victory as New York came away with three of four games from the Marlins to start the season.
The Mets faced off against lefty Trevor Rogers, who is trying to rebound from a rough 2022 season. Alas, his 2023 season got off to a less-than-auspicious start, as a hit and two walks loaded the bases for Jeff McNeil with two outs. McNeil responded by hitting a soft dribbler along the first base side that Rogers fielded and tried to shovel to first for the final out, but the ball hit the runner and skipped past the first baseman. Two runs scored to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead.
Senga then took to the mound to get his MLB career started. As was the case with Rogers, however, it was a bumpy beginning. Luis Arráez greeted him rudely with a leadoff single, and a wild pitch sent him to second. Jorge Soler then doubled to right field to cut the lead down to 2-1, and Senga continued to struggle by walking the next two batters to load the bases. Command is one of the areas that Senga occasionally struggled with in Japan, and there was certainly concern that the issue could dog him as he made his transition to the big leagues; this first inning seemed to be a confirmation of that concern.
However, what followed—both in this first inning and in the rest of his outing—demonstrated the reason why the Mets took a bet on him, as he proceeded to record two strikeouts (including making Yuli Gurriel look silly on a wild swing that sent the bat flying) and retired Jon Berti on a lineout to right field to get out of the inning with the lead intact. With that, Senga seemingly got over his debut jitters, and the next few innings showed him dominating Marlins batters. Despite throwing 36 pitches in the first inning, which could very easily have necessitated an early exit, he managed to make it into the fifth inning before getting the hook after recording the first out of the frame. After allowing the first four baserunners of the game to reach base, he allowed just two more for the rest of the day (a walk in the second and a single in the fifth), and struck out eight batters (all of them on wicked ghost forks) over that time.
It’s possible we may see more of the occasional command struggles from Senga throughout the year. But odds are we’ll see a lot more of the dominance we saw in most of this game as well. And that should be an exciting prospect for a lot of Mets fans—especially when the guy that he’s replacing in the rotation had a, err, rough beginning to his season today.
Rogers also settled down after his difficult first, as his next three innings were largely clean save for a Mark Canha single in the fourth. However, the Mets got back on the board in the fourth inning, as Tim Locastro—who was inserted into the lineup today to give Brandon Nimmo a breather—led off the inning by doing what he does best: getting hit by a pitch. Immediately after, Tommy Pham—who took over Nimmo’s spot both in center field and the leadoff spot—hit his first homer as a Met, a two-run shot to increase the lead to 4-1.
Another hit-by-pitch chased Rogers from the game after just 4.1 innings of work and allowed the Mets to once again do some damage against the Marlins bullpen. Facing off against Huascar Brazoban in the seventh, Locastro once again got hit by a pitch to get on-base, and Pham once again drove him in—this time on a double to center that got past a diving Jazz Chisholm (who it seems is definitively not an outfielder). That third RBI from Pham gave the Mets a more comfortable four-run lead.
Meanwhile, after Senga was pulled from the game, Dennis Santana made his second appearance for the Mets and struck out the two batters he faced (albeit one with the final strike being recorded on a pitch clock violation. John Curtiss then handled the seventh inning and rebounded from his first outing in which he surrendered a solo homer by pitching a perfect frame with a strikeout. Stephen Nogosek—the only bullpen arm who had yet to appear in a game this series—came on for the eighth, and he showed some command problems in his first 2023 outing, walking number nine hitter Joey Wendle and then issuing another free pass to Chisholm after retiring the next two battles. Nogosek also took Avisaíl García to a 3-2 count, threatening to put him on and bring the tying run up to the plate, but he froze him on a fastball for strike three to end the inning. Buck Showalter made the surprising decision to send Nogosek back out there for the ninth despite his struggles in his first inning of work, and he quickly surrendered a leadoff hit. But he bounced back with a double play, and he recorded the final out to end the day.
So, to recap: one of the starting pitchers the Mets are placing a lot of faith in this year looked more than worthy of that faith and got his first major league win. The bats had another pretty solid day, led by a player the Mets are hoping will be a solid piece for them this year. The bullpen threw 3.2 shutout innings, concluding an overall encouraging opening series for them. And the Mets put away their division rivals, went to 3-1 on the year, and moved up to first place after the Braves lost against the Nationals (no, it’s not too early to look at the standings, haters). All in all, not a bad day in the office. The Mets will now look to keep the good vibes going as they begin a series in Milwaukee against the Brewers tomorrow afternoon.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Tommy Pham, +24.2% WPA
Big Mets loser: Starling Marte, -7.4% WPA
Mets pitchers: +29.3% WPA
Mets hitters: +20.7% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Jeff McNeil two-run scoring single in the first, +17.4% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Jorge Soler RBI double in the first, -10.3% WPA