By Arnie Leshin
The buck only went so far. That’s how long New York Mets first-year manager Buck Showalter went after the 33-year-old, two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom began his long-awaited return to the mound.
After injuries forced him to hurl his last Major League game back in July 7 of 2021, the righthander was sidelined the remainder of the season, and was still hurting when the 2020 spring training came around.
And until Tuesday’s start at the cellar dwelling Washington National, he had toiled here, there and everywhere, all against minor league teams, three, four, five innings, a limit of 30, 40, 50 pitches. And following his five frames down at Mets’ Rookie League Port St. Lucie, Showalter saw the light.
“Jacob’s next start will be with the Mets,” he said.
And so it was. He appeared relaxed and anxious to get back on the hill. So were the National League East-leading Mets as they now stand 2 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves with the defending World Series champion Bravos heading for Citi Field and a 4-game series in Queens starting Friday, with a doubleheader on Saturday.
This would mean the Mets to finally throw their one-two punch of deGrom and 38-year-old righty future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, who has won the Cy Young Award three times.
And so with his team down 1-0, five innings and 59 pitches caused Showalter caused deGrom to shut down. Nothing wrong with his work on the mound, but Showalter thought it was enough time out there for him. He had already struck out six, walked none, allowed one and four hits.
He began with a 100-mile fastball, then caught the outside of the plate for another, and followed with a 101-mile blazer that made for a quick and impressive strikeout. He whiffed two in the first frame and got his third out on a grounder to shortstop Francisco Lindor.
In the second inning, he fanned two more, and yielded a single that got down the first base line, but right-fielder Starling Marte cut it off and fired it on a line to second base to easily get the third.
In the last of the third came the lone run off him. It came quickly on back-to-back doubles, but deGrom then struck out the next batter to end the threat there. But in the top of third, Lindor’s 19th home run, a solo shot deep into the seats in right field, tied the score and was New York’s final tally.
The fourth and fifth went well. He had one strikeout, walked his only hitter, and even smiled when Showalter informed him his day was done, next stop the Braves at home.
Later, deGrom was still smiling and rather happy to get back out there. He said he thought he did well, his fastball was moving well, he was catching corners, his slider looked good, and he even threw a curveball strike in the fourth inning.
Now let’s see how the next step goes. With Scherzer and deGrom out there, it’s a weapon no one else has. It also gives the team a quality crew of starting pitchers, namely about 5-6, and the bullpen should improve after veteran right-hander Trevor May returns from the injury list this week.
Said Showalter: “Of course it’s a big plus to see Jacob out there. He looked comfortable, mixed it up well, his faster was really moving, and I think 51 of his pitches were fastballs.”