The Mets got another dose of optimism Sunday when Jacob deGrom, a reliever who has been in the sidelines all season, struck out five of the six batters he faced in a rehab assignment at Class A St. Lucia.
Eighteen of DeGrom’s 24 pitches went for strikes, his fastball exceeding 100 miles per hour. He hit the only shot he didn’t miss.
Combine that progress with Max Scherzer’s expected return from the injured list this week, and the Mets’ pitching staff could finally become what general manager Billy Eppler envisioned this offseason. The team will need all the help it can get, given how poorly its offense has performed in recent weeks.
“I felt like I was in control,” deGrom told reporters after Sunday’s start. “The main thing was to find the fastball and get it off. Everything was fine.”
More important than deGrom’s results in his six-point appearance, he said, was that his shoulder, which dislocated after spring training due to a stress reaction in the scapula, wasn’t limiting him.
“It feels 100 percent,” he said. “Because it was a bone — you can’t really push it. I had to wait until the bone healed and move on from there.”
Despite the strong outing and lack of soreness, it is expected that deGrom will need a few minor league starts before he returns to the majors.
The Mets have gotten off to a rough start this season, and even with a major offensive slump, they’ve held onto the lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. That’s despite Scherzer starting just eight games and deGrom not starting a major league game since July 7 of last season.
Critical to the first half were strong seasons from Taijuan Walker (6-2, 2.72 ERA) and David Peterson (5-1, 3.24), who helped offset injuries to not only deGrom and Scherzer, but also Tylor McGill. A right-hander who had some promising results earlier this season before going on the injured list with a sprained shoulder. Chris Bassitt, a 2021 All-Star Oakland acquired during spring training, was placed on the injured list on July 1, but the lack of an injury designation suggests it may be a coronavirus-related absence rather than anything bad. his arm.
Even Scherzer and deGrom may need more help than the Mets’ hitters have had the last few weeks. After winning two of three at home in the weekend series against the Texas Rangers, the Mets are still 29th in the majors in on-base percentage (.639) over the last 15 days, behind only the Oakland Athletics. Pete Alonso has continued to perform, but nearly every Mets player has suffered a severe slump, none more so than Mark Canha, the veteran outfielder acquired this offseason who is 3-for-34.
If the Mets hope to stop Atlanta, which is coming off a tough start to last season, getting the team’s forwards healthy and back in shape will be crucial.