Mets’ lack of rotation depth behind stars may become issue
MIAMI — Half-jokingly, Mets manager Buck Showalter said the other day he probably would have signed up before spring training to break camp absent only one member from his starting rotation.
He was referring to the loss of Jose Quintana, at least into July, after the left-hander underwent bone-graft surgery for a stress fracture on a rib. David Peterson was officially named to the open spot in the Mets’ rotation earlier this week.
There are plenty of worries that can keep a manager awake at night, but for the Mets the top of the list might not be figuring out how to protect leads in the late innings minus Edwin Diaz or from where they will generate power in the lineup behind Pete Alonso.
Of equal or larger concern is veteran starting pitchers and where the Mets will turn for help if injuries conspire to derail their rotation. The Mets survived quite nicely last season without Jacob deGrom for four months and with Max Scherzer twice on the injured list with oblique injuries. That success was a testament to pitchers such as Peterson, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco maintaining health and consistency.
Justin Verlander didn’t have a great spring, a fact that will be forgotten if he goes out and stifles the Marlins in his Mets debut on Saturday. Most surprising were his control issues in his last two Grapefruit League starts and a drop in velocity. But team officials aren’t concerned there is an issue physically with the team’s co-ace.
“Any time the velocity is down it gets your attention,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “But I think we have figured out what it was and with the adjustment in his bullpen [the velocity] should be there in Miami.”
Kodai Senga returned to throwing his signature splitter during an intrasquad scrimmage on Monday, but it’s fair for the Mets to have concerns about the right-hander as he prepares to dive into a five-man rotation for the first time and the grind that will present for him as he also adjusts to a different-sized baseball than he used in Japan.
Next in line if the Mets need a starting pitcher is Tylor Megill, who lost to Peterson in the competition for the team’s rotation opening and will begin the season at Triple-A Syracuse. A right-hander, Megill had a strong rookie season for the Mets in 2021 and last year dominated over five starts before hitting the IL. The noticeably leaner Megill struggled with control in his final two spring training appearances, walking 10 batters over that stretch.
“Megill is interesting because he changed his body in the offseason to try to attack the pitch clock,” Hefner said. “He lost weight and worked on cardio because he is going to have to make pitches quicker, so with that is how your nerves interact with firing your muscle.”
Hefner said he was told it takes time for the body to adjust to such a change in weight.
“I think that is all that is happening here,” Hefner said. “He is anticipating his hand to be in a certain position because that is the way it has been his whole life and now it’s not necessarily, so those little adjustments can cause some misses at home plate, but his stuff was good and I certainly expect [the walks] to not continue at that rate.”
The night Diaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee at the World Baseball Classic, during a Team Puerto Rico celebration, Showalter said he stayed awake tossing and turning. Sending Megill to the bullpen, because of his high-upside stuff, was considered, but ultimately deemed too risky because of what could happen within the rotation.
All of that is the residual effect of lacking enough starting pitching prospects ready to contribute this season. Next year, the picture might be rosier, with names such as Dominic Hamel, Mike Vasil and Blade Tidwell progressing through the organization. Hamel and Vasil made cameos this spring and left a positive impression on team officials with their maturity as much as their ability.
I asked Hefner if he shared Showalter’s assessment that he would have signed up for losing only one starting pitcher in spring training.
“I don’t think so,” Hefner said. “I think I would have taken my chances.”
The Mets appear fine for now in the rotation, but there are still 162 games to be played.