Bartolo Colon’s brilliance on Wednesday was defined by a change of pace
Young or old, rookie or veteran, every single player on a baseball field must continue to adjust if he is to survive the trials of a long career.
And, what had allowed Bartolo Colon to survive this portion of his career simply was no longer survivable. Since April 29, Colon had gone 6-11 with a 5.37 ERA, having allowed 149 hits, 19 of which were home runs, in only 119 innings during that span.
So it came down to a choice for the 42-year-old right-handler on Wednesday in Philadelphia. He could either continue going to the well, hope he hits his location, pray he could get through six innings and hope the offense clubs out a victory.
Or, he could change things up against the Phillies, catch them off guard and make an effort to adjust one more time during his long and storied career.
He chose the latter.
“After the first inning [Dan Warthen] and I got together,” Colon said. “He told me to use my secondary pitches.”
And it worked, as Colon was brilliant for seven innings on Wednesday night against the Phillies with an effective mix of his two-seam fastball and a change-up. He allowed only five hits and two walks in seven innings to earn his 11th win of the season.
“The use of the changeup was the key today after that first inning,” Colon explained.
Colon threw 15 change-ups on Wednesday, 13 of which were strikes. The Phillies did not reach base via a hit against his change-up all night long.
It was the most change-ups Colon threw in a start since pitch tracking began eight years ago, according to Brooksbaseball.net.
It became extra important for Colon to deliver in a way he just hasn’t done consistently enough in 2015, as the Nationals dropped a game against the Padres in Washington. The Mets had a chance to extend their lead to 6 1/2 games in the National League East and to lower their magic number to clinch the division to 31.
Because of Colon’s brilliance, the Mets were able to take advantage of the opportunity.
“It was a game we had to have,” Terry Collins said. “And he gave it to us.”
For now, it would seem Colon’s job as a member of this starting rotation is to buy them time before Steven Matz is activated from the disabled list in a couple of weeks, and then lengthen the rotation to six starters through the end of the regular season.
While he was certainly brilliant on Wednesday, it probably didn’t do much for his chances of being in a theoretical playoff rotation, and it probably didn’t alter the possibility of being left off the playoff roster entirely. No matter how well he pitches, he might find himself on the outside looking in, as his value is as a starting pitcher, and the Mets will have six pitchers for four rotation spots in the postseason.
But if he can successfully navigate the final six weeks of the season and pitch well enough to win for about six innings, he will have done his job successfully and will be deserving of all the merits and rewards that come with being a playoff team.
He was signed originally not only to plug a hole, but to serve as a spiritual leader both on and off the field. And he has performed that role as a guide for the younger pitchers on the staff since the moment he’s arrived. Jeurys Familia and Noah Syndergaard are two examples of people who have sought his guidance this year alone.
The Mets knew the second year of this deal with Colon could be a little rocky on the mound, and it has as he has most definitely regressed as expected. But it was the price they had to pay to acquire those intangibles Colon brings to the table.
And it’s those intangibles which might be a huge difference not specifically with Colon, but how his presences has affected the growth of other pitchers on the staff.
After all, Colon’s performance on Wednesday night just goes to show if a 42-year-old with greatly diminished stuff can still adjust, control, and win a game at the big league level, so can one or more of the young fireballers on the pitching staff who have 20 or more years ahead of them.
And that maybe worth the $20 million price tag alone.