For Jacob deGrom, the storm which won’t pass is leading to necessary questions
With the Mets staked to what is now an 8 1/2 game lead in the National League East with 17 games to go, it’s hard to get too overly critical when the starting pitcher has a bad night and the team loses a game.
Of course, the Mets have been in this territory before only to see that lead disappear the way Michael Cuddyer can make an object instantly vanish with one of his magic tricks. Granted, that 2007 team was different, the people were different, and the makeup of the club is different. For something like that to take place again would require the Mets to defy odds well beyond what they defied eight years ago.
But for Jacob deGrom, his latest start on Tuesday night against the Marlins was an extension of of what has become a concerning slump.
The Mets co-ace had to battle right from the beginning of his start on Tuesday but was bailed out with a good throw to nab Dee Gordon trying to steal third in the first inning. He then had to fend off command issues in each of the next two innings, although he managed to survive none the less.
Then, what has become an all too familiar storm came in the fourth inning, a storm which does not seem to be passing for the right-hander.
The Marlins opened up the frame with four consecutive hits against deGrom which quickly resulted in two runs. Then with Justin Bour at third and one out, he allowed a long flyball to JT Realmuto which brought home the third run of the inning.
But it didn’t end there.
He retired Miguel Rojas for the first out of the fifth inning, but the floodgates opened again with three consecutive hits – one of which was a double to the opposing pitcher Tom Koehler – and it was 4-1. Martin Prado made it 5-1 with a sac fly of his own, and then Bour struck again with an RBI single to make it 6-1.
“There were some pretty good swings, which indicate to me there were balls that were not in the right place,” Collins said. “He’s pretty frustrated right now.”
Indeed there were, and the Marlins were making some very loud contact against deGrom pretty much from the beginning of his start.
His velocity wasn’t an issue – his fastball was consistently 94-96 mph, right around his average for the season. His power slider was 90-91 mph, again suggesting his arm and body were healthy.
But his location was downright poor. Most of his pitches were centered right in the middle of the plate, and considering the good swings Miami put on deGrom’s pitches, it’s almost as if he seemed predictable to them in certain sequences.
DeGrom was visibly ticked, as he stormed out of the dugout and into the clubhouse after the fifth inning.
“He’s pretty frustrated right now,” the manager said after the game.
A lot of the talk with Collins after the game was about fatigue with deGrom. Considering his velocity appeared fine, physical fatigue may not be a factor.
“I feel fine,” deGrom said at his locker Tuesday night.
But that doesn’t discount the possibility of mental fatigue with deGrom, as this start was an extension of an inconsistent stretch for the right-hander. It was the second time in five starts he’s allowed six runs in an outing, and while he’s recorded 31 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings over that span, he’s allowed 43 baserunners as well, 20 of which have come around to score.
The opposition has hit .330 against deGrom in his last five starts.
All of this is happening as he continues to set a career-high in innings pitched. He’s at 181 pitches in 2015 after throwing 178 innings in 2014, which was a career-high at the time.
After reading the tea leaves, clearly the Mets are considering at least pushing deGrom back once they clinch the division, if not skipping him altogether. But it doesn’t seem like Collins is ready to skip his other great starting pitcher as long as the Mets are playing for the division title.
That’s understandable, especially since they’ve been forced to skip Matt Harvey twice already and will likely do so again. And messing with the core of their success could mess significantly with their chances of getting to the playoffs.
“The one thing we cannot forget is we are in a pennant race,” Collins said.
As for deGrom, he doesn’t want to get skipped even if it could be the best medicine for him, although nobody knows for sure.
“I’d like to keep pitching,” deGrom said. “I’ve had bad starts before. I’d like to get back out there.”
As long as the Nationals are mathematically alive, the Mets will go to war with (most of) their best soldiers on the field. But as they look ahead towards October, it’s vital the Mets cure what is ailing deGrom, whether it’s fatigue or not.