John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
On most any other night it would have felt like the sky was falling at Citi Field. A day that began with the news of Jeurys Familia going on the 10-day IL with a bone spur ended with their not-so-bulletproof closer, Edwin Diaz, giving up a game-losing home run for the second time in three nights.
Suddenly the bullpen problems that forever seem to haunt this franchise are back again, to the point where exasperated Mets fans are ready to take up a collection if it will convince the team to sign Craig Kimbrel, the still-available All-Star closer.
And yet if anything could calm the chaos it was the sight of Jacob deGrom taking the mound against the Reds and reclaiming the dominance that flat disappeared for three starts in as stunning a slump as you'll ever see.
Coming out like a pitcher possessed, challenging the Reds with 33 fastballs in his first 37 pitches, deGrom set a tone that carried him to seven scoreless innings. Watching it up close you got the feeling he was convinced he could will himself back to form, all but daring the Reds' hitters to prove otherwise.
Afterward, the defending Cy Young winner insisted it wasn't a plan so much as a reaction to the swings he was seeing against his fastball, which he was cranking at 98 mph early.
"I had a good fastball," deGrom said with a smile at his locker. "I figured I'd stick with it."
Whatever his thought process, the velocity alone told you how badly he wanted to put the bad starts behind him and get on with being the best pitcher in baseball again. And though he would eventually settle into a more typical mix of pitches, using his off-speed stuff plenty in the middle innings, the early innings seemed to be a statement to his team, never mind the Reds, that he was still the ace they could count on.
Ideally it would have led to a feel-good win, not a gut-punch of a home run from Jose Iglesias, of all people, and a 1-0 loss to the Reds.
Big picture, though, the Mets will take deGrom's return to form and be happy to move on, knowing how much he means over the long haul.
Indeed, while Mickey Callaway never really gives you that straight-from-the-gut reaction in the manner of his predecessor Terry Collins after a killer loss, on this night his company-line optimism actually seemed to reflect the mood in the clubhouse as well.
It even allowed for him to make a best-case argument that, for all of the warts this team is showing lately, their starting pitching might just be coming around.
"It's good to see Jacob deGrom back," Callaway said. "That was a big game for him, and the last three or four games for us, I feel like our pitching is starting to turn it around. It gives you a really good feeling.
"The way Wheeler, Matz, and Vargas have pitched, they've kept us steady. Now I feel like Noah (Syndergaard) will go out there (Thursday) feeling good about what deGrom did. If we get these two guys clicking, I feel like we're going to take off."
Too sunny, you say?
Understandable. Suddenly the Mets have stopped hitting, their defense is hurting them lately, and where do they go now to fix this bullpen anyway?
Let's be honest, though -- Familia's injury isn't exactly a crippling blow, the way he was pitching. There was no way Callaway could continue to roll him out there as the eighth-inning guy, at least for now, but the Mets need to find a way to fix him.
For one thing, he's got a three-year, $30 million contract, and for another, their pen is ultra-thin if their one-time closer can't be part of the late-inning solution. GM Brodie Van Wagenen said he doesn't expect Familia's injury to be a "long-term" situation, and considering he needed a break mentally, perhaps this will help in the long run.
In any case, Seth Lugo seems to be the obvious choice to take over as the primary set-up man, but Callaway made the point before Wednesday's game that because of his background as a starter and the back-and-forth nature of his roles the last couple of years, the Mets have to tread lightly in the way they use him.
"We have to be diligent about it," was the way the manager put it.
Same goes for Robert Gsellman, though he hasn't proven to be nearly consistent enough to be trusted as a go-to guy in the late innings.
In truth, Familia's ongoing control problems, not his injury, ought to be reason enough to push the Mets to go sign Kimbrel, but so far they only seem interested if they can sign him on their terms, which still doesn't seem likely.
Instead they'll have to find a way to patch it together for now. On the bright side, Diaz should be fine. His stuff is electric, but he has to be smarter than to throw a slider to a punch-hitter like Iglesias, who has 23 career home runs in nine big-league seasons.
Suffice it to say the only pitch Iglesias could have taken deep off Diaz was a hanging slider, which is exactly what he got.
To say it ruined the Mets' night, however, just wouldn't be right. Not after deGrom went out and pitched like a Cy Young winner again. All hope for this season still starts with their ace pitching like one.