As he entered the 2019 season off his first National League Cy Young award, Jacob deGrom did so with the goal of getting another one.
He ultimately reached his pinnacle Wednesday when deGrom received the honor over the Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu, but the path to the repeat wasn't smooth sailing by any means.
When he reflected on his repeat campaign, deGrom thought back to the change in mentality and approach he made after three turbulent starts at the end of April -- three straight losses to the Minnesota Twins (14-8, April 9), Atlanta Braves (7-3, April 14) and Milwaukee Brewers (10-2, April 26) in which the Mets' ace allowed 14 runs on 18 hits (five home runs) and dug himself into a hole.
"I feel like I was trying to better what I did in 2018, and then once I had those three starts that weren't so good -- they were terrible, actually -- I kind of got back to what my mindset of 2018," deGrom said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. "So I think it kind of hurt me a little bit, but then, in the end, kind of helped me. And looking at what I did in 2018 and just how I took the mound -- I didn't let much bother me. It was one pitch at a time, make it to the best of your ability and if you make a mistake, get the ball back and that was over with, focus on what you're about to do. So I think it hurt me a little early on and then I was like, 'Oh, this is what I did in 2018.'"
Once the calendar flipped from April (2-3, 4.85 ERA), deGrom cruised the rest of the way with a 9-5 record and 2.07 ERA while striking out 212 and walking 34.
"I think that was kind of what I struggled with at the beginning of this year," deGrom said. "So I think, kind of having gone through that, just knowing to take everything one pitch at a time and focus on what I'm trying to do, not what I have done and just continue to try to learn from the people around me. I've had a lot of good pitching coaches and taken little bits and pieces from them, and just tried to learn everything I can. So that's the way I think I'm going to approach this next season."
The thoughts of the repeat consumed deGrom to start the season, but he channeled his energy into the right places and the altered approach put him back on track for a year in which his 2.43 ERA and NL-leading 255 strikeouts told the story better than the 11-8 record.
Those numbers weren't better than his NL-best 1.70 ERA and career-high 269 strikeouts in 2019, but deGrom delivered on another shutdown season when the balls flew off the bats.
He can shoot for three straight Cy Youngs, an honor only done before by the Atlanta Braves' Greg Maddux (1993-95) and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson (1999-01), but deGrom is already locked on building off the Mets' second half for 2020.
"I think, a little bit in the offseason, you reflect on your season and kind of what you've done," deGrom said. "And for me, kind of looking, winning two Cy Youngs -- I was on the list of guys who have done that in consecutive seasons and the guys who won Cy Youngs -- and I think that you look at it for a little bit and (the focus shifts to) preparing to get ready for next year. But I'm definitely starting realize it and a really, being mentioned with the names that are on those lists -- both in Major League Baseball and, really, history and Mets history -- is truly an honor and something that, when I first came up, if you would've asked me that or told me this was going to happen, I probably wouldn't have believed you."