Jacob deGrom settled down after a rough first inning Monday to throw six innings of two-run ball in a no-decision against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
In his 31-pitch first inning, deGrom allowed three singles, including an RBI by Michael Saunders, and two walks, including a bases-loaded walk to Cameron Rupp.
DeGrom then retired 11 of his final 12 batters and tossed five shutout innings.
"I was struggling with command early on, walked the leadoff guy, ended up walking in a run," deGrom said after the game. "I think the main thing was slowing down and making pitches when I needed to. I felt like throughout the game I got better as it went on."
"I think that tells you what kind of stuff he's got," manager Terry Collins added. "He didn't have command of very much tonight. ... He just battles enough. When he needs to make a pitch, he makes a pitch. That's why he's so good. You look up and - even on the nights like you say, he's off - he still gets you deep in the game."
In his season debut, deGrom struck out six batters and did not allow a run in six innings against the Braves. He struck out another three Monday making him only the third Mets pitcher - along with Doc Gooden and Matt Harvey - to strike out 500 batters during the first 80 games of his career.
Matthew Cerrone (Twitter | Instagram | About Me): DeGrom is a fascinating and compelling pitcher to watch work every fifth day. And I'm not talking wins and losses, but strictly speaking about observing the story of his start. For the same reason I loved watching Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, the way he thinks and works on the mound is almost palpable.
It's like you can see the gears grinding in his mind from pitch to pitch, sort of like the first few moments when struggling with a puzzle. But then, before you know what happened, he's locked in. He knows his strategy and rhythm. He's slicing guys up and getting them to swing and miss. The opposition is making weak contact and - before I can even realize what he's doing and why - it's the sixth or seventh inning and his puzzle is complete.
Apr 10, 2017; DeGrom (48) follows though on a pitch at Citizens Bank Park. Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
For instance, in his first start of the season, he had a wicked slider, which quickly became the basis of that day's plan. Last night, however, not so much, as his slider had little break and hung too much over the plate. So, what does he do? Does he panic, keep throwing weak sliders and get rocked? Does he keep jamming that puzzle piece in to a spot where it doesn't fit? Nope...
Instead, he ditches it and goes all in on his change-up, which, by the way, was his worst pitch in his previous start. Even better, he used it to pitch to contact, switching to a strategy of soft pop ups and ground balls that frequently ended innings.
Jake has always been able to adjust this way. Frankly, the ONLY time I recall him being stuck in gear was against the Royals during the World Series. Outside of that one, brutal experience, he always seems to find his way.
In Spring Training, I talked with a scout that predicted deGrom would have the best year of his career in 2017 because he was forced to pitch last season so often without his best stuff. And, because of his struggles in 2016, it may actually help to underscore his arsenal and build up his confidence.
So far, after two starts, it looks like this scout was right, which is great news for the Mets, and for people like me that love pitching, but terrible news for the National League.