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How the Mets’ starting pitching looks to get through April

With four of the five pplanned starters out, who will pick up the ball?

New York Mets v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Mets are 13-7 on the young season and nipping at the Braves’ heels in second place. By almost any metric you want to use, this is a good start to their season. However, when you consider that the team has done all of this without one of their co-aces, their fourth starter, and their closer, it’s much more impressive. Factor in that their starting catcher went down early in the year and their fifth starter was mostly inneffective before also hitting the IL, and the start looks almost implausible.

The implausibility just got ratcheted up again, as Max Scherzer has begun his ten game suspension for a ‘sticky stuff’ violation in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Without a concrete date for Justin Verlander’s return, the Mets need to be thinking about how to not let the weight of these absences pull them too far away from the top of the National League East. That means that the Mets have to fill four fifths of their rotation with depth pieces, at least until May 1, when Scherzer returns to the rotation.

Thus far, Tylor Megill and David Peterson have been perfectly acceptable spot starters for the Mets this season, with both having good outings that make you believe, if you squint properly, that the Mets haven’t lost too much by having them in the rotation instead of Verlander and José Quintana. The Mets have lost four of their eight starts, but aside from a disastrous Peterson start against Milwaukee, both have kept the Mets in their games.

José Butto started on Sunday against the Athletics and, while not exactly a dominant performance, Butto handled himself well. Four walks in five innings against a very bad team isn’t exactly a Cy Young performance, but Butto kept the team in the game, surrendering just one earned run and striking out two.

After Butto’s start, he was sent down to Triple-A Syracuse, and is not eligible to return until May 2, unless he is replacing someone on the roster who is hitting the Injured List. A phantom IL stint will likely solve this problem.

Tonight sees Joey Lucchesi return to the majors for the first time since 2021, when he underwent Tommy John Surgery. Over three starts in Syracuse, Lucchesi has given up just four earned runs over 15.1 innings, striking out 16.

This is the quartet of pitchers that the Mets will be relying on for their starts, along with lone rotation mainstay Kodai Senga, until Scherzer and, eventually, Verlander and Carrasco return. While thus far, Peterson, Megill, and Butto are pitching to a 4.24 ERA over 46.2 innings. That will play in the short-term, especially while the Mets are scoring 4.85 runs per game.

The bigger issue, however, is that only thrice this season has a Mets starter finished the sixth inning, meaning that the Mets’ bullpen has been taxed to pick up a minimum of three innings per game. Thus far, Buck Showalter has done an admirable job of spreading the usage around so that no one pitcher or two has been overtaxed more than the others.

Lucchesi has always been a short-outing starter, and Butto has started three games across all levels so far this season, and thrown three and two thirds, six, and five innings, respectively. Megill, Peterson, and Senga have three of the four six inning starts this season thus far, but none are doing it consistently yet.

So what other options do the Mets have internally to get through the next few weeks? Late in spring, the team signed Dylan Bundy to a minor-league deal and, through one Syracuse start, that looks like, perhaps, a dream that might die on the vine. Bundy was perfectly cromulent for the Twins last season, and didn’t really have spring training this year, so I’m not writing him off just yet. But suffice to say, he doesn’t look ready to help right now.

Of the other Syracuse starters, only Alex Valverde has an ERA of under seven. If they’re looking at a Double-A starter in April, the team is potentially damaging a prospect’s progress in favor of a spot start, and even then, Binghamton isn’t exactly overflowing with pitching options.

The four options they’re currently down to - Butto, Lucchesi, Megill, and Peterson - are the best the Mets have available as of now and, barring another injury or a few starts of truly awful baseball, they are likely the ones to carry the Mets through this stretch. There are always alternatives: trades, fringe free agent signings for folks playing independent ball, or bullpen games. But right now, none of those seem particularly appealing, in large part because we are still in April.

The fact that the Mets are down to their ninth position on the SP depth chart and are playing as well as they are is a great, great thing. But, unless someone can start putting up more innings and some of these missing players return, it doesn’t appear enough to sustain this success into May and beyond.