I don’t know. Something’s wrong.”
— Boon to Otter, “Animal House”
Jacob deGrom insisted early Saturday morning that his right elbow feels fine, and that his new catcher Wilson Ramos bears no blame. He certainly doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who would worry about living up to a big, new contract.
Something’s wrong, though. You saw it if you waited through a long rain delay to witness deGrom suffer his third straight loss, 10-2 to the Brewers at a wet Citi Field, his return from the injured list a dud.
According to both the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner and his manager, this represents a breakdown of mechanics, his parts not properly aligned on the mound. The Mets and their fans had best hope this problem can be fixed as easily as a car going into the shop, for the stakes are high.
“My arm feels great. That’s what’s frustrating about it,” deGrom said. “Felt really good, good warming up. To go there and do that, that’s embarrassing.
“I stunk,” the right-hander added.
With the Mets (13-12) falling a half-game behind the Phillies (14-12) atop the NL East, the final tally for deGrom registered five runs on five hits over four innings, three walks and two hit batters, with his seven strikeouts providing a lone glimmer of hope. He now owns a 4.85 ERA on the season, and that marks the highest it ever has stood at the completion of a start in his six-year major-league career (thanks, Baseball-Reference.com). It marks a most discouraging beginning to that five-year, $137.5-million extension he signed right before Opening Day.
“The easy part is diagnosing it,” Mickey Callaway said, “and then the hard part, even if you’re doing it on a regular routine, is to fix it.”
As per Callaway deGrom “is leaving the rubber a little quick,” and that leads to his pitches going to the middle of the plate. Each of his primary pitches — his fastball, slider and changeup — got hit hard during the Brewers’ five-run third inning. In light of the “barking” right elbow that compelled the Mets to place deGrom on the IL last week, he probably should have been lifted after three innings and 71 pitches. They contemplated that, Callaway said, only to defer to deGrom, who pitched a 1-2-3 fourth.
Could he have navigated better through this with the help of Devin Mesoraco, his personal catcher from last year who didn’t make the club in spring training (and whom the Mets put on the restricted list when he refused a minor-league assignment)? DeGrom refused to play that card, saying, “Wilson [Ramos] did a great job. Called a good game. There’s only so much he can do. He can’t go throw the ball for me.”
Did the two-hour, 42-minute rain delay, which the Mets foolishly chose over holding a day-night doubleheader on Saturday, throw him off? Do opposing hitters know what’s coming, as Alex Rodriguez suggested on ESPN during deGrom’s prior start, a loss in Atlanta? Does he feel the weight of that large financial commitment, something the Mets have given sparingly in their history?
All theories constitute fair game right now, though the level-headed deGrom sure doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to get swallowed up by external forces.
The Mets, nevertheless, asserted that this is a more conventional problem, one that can be remedied with hard work and deep thought between now and deGrom’s next start.
“I think it’s just getting my reps in and taking the bullpen sessions into the game,” deGrom said.
The Mets are getting hammered regularly, their 150 runs allowed packing the NL, and they lack the organizational depth to cover for such unexpected malfunctions. They should be actively negotiating with free agent Dallas Keuchel, deGrom’s issues notwithstanding. Yet the sooner deGrom can look more like his old self, the better the Mets will feel about everything they do. He’s that important to the team’s hopes and dreams in 2019 and beyond.