By Zach Gewelb
This is the ace the Mets have been looking for.
Now, more than ever, Jacob deGrom has pitched like the true ace he is capable of being after tossing back-to-back gems against the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals.
In his last two starts, deGrom has pitched to a 2-0 record, allowing just two runs and eight in 17 innings with 12 strikeouts. His dominance helped lower his ERA from 4.75 to 3.94 and the second of his two victories prevented the Mets from being swept by the Washington Nationals.
With Noah Syndergaard out with an injury and Steven Matz just returning from the disabled list, the pressure has been on deGrom to stand out as the team’s ace. And before his two most recent starts, he had struggled, which has been a key reason for the Mets’ early season swoon.
But deGrom has looked like a new pitcher his last two times out.
The biggest difference? He is keeping the ball down in the zone and in the ballpark. The righty allowed just one home run in his two-game winning streak, an improvement on his four long balls surrendered in his previous two starts. In total, deGrom has surrendered 13 home runs in 89 innings pitched and is allowing more than one home run per game (1.31) for the first time of his career. He knows that number is too high and has made an effort to limit the long ball, which is evident in his recent performances.
Keeping the ball in the ballpark has been vital to deGrom’s success, but keeping the ball on the ground has been just as important. He induced 11 ground ball outs against Washington and 16 against the Cubs before that. He had not recorded more than nine ground ball outs prior to the two-game stretch. Now, his ground ball rate is down to 46.1 percent, which is still the highest mark of his career, but much closer to his career mark of 45.2 percent.
The righty has also seen an uptick in strikeouts this season with 106 in 89 innings. His K/9 rate of 10.72 is by far a career high — his next highest mark is 9.66 back in 2015 — and if he can keep that up, along with his high ground ball rate and an improving home run rate, deGrom is in excellent position to lead the Mets’ rotation moving forward.
Knights in Shining Armor
Along with deGrom’s recent string of successes have been the timely returns of starters Steven Matz and Seth Lugo. Each had missed the first two months of the season due to elbow injuries and have seamlessly transitioned into the starting rotation.
Matz has gone 1-1 in two starts, pitching 14 innings and allowing five total runs, good for a 3.21 ERA. The lefty won his first start back from the disabled list seven innings of one-run ball against the Atlanta Braves before taking a tough loss to Steven Strasbrug and the Nationals in his second turn in the rotation.
Like Matz, Lugo also has a 1-1 record in two starts since returning to the rotation. He won his first start against the Braves, allowing just one run in seven innings while striking out six and dropped his second start, giving up three runs (two earned) in 6.2 innings pitched against the Nationals.
Matz and Lugo’s return, along with deGrom’s return to form as the staff ace, gives the Mets a chance to make up some ground and get back into the playoff picture moving forward.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe