NEW YORK — Jacob deGrom doesn’t argue. He doesn’t try to negotiate. When pitching coach Jeremy Hefner breaks the news about how many pitches the Mets will allow deGrom to start, deGrom just accepts. He understands what it would look like if he successfully lobbyed for more and then hurt himself again. So for now, deGrom is keeping it quiet.
On Saturday, that meant throwing just six innings in a 1-0 win over the Phillies at Citi Field, despite showing nearly unattainable things for the third time in three appearances since coming back from the injured list. It meant throwing just 76 pitches – the same number as against the Braves six days earlier – and then watching from afar as relievers Seth Lugo, Trevor May and (an unusually shaky version of) Edwin Díaz did the rest.
Mets officials insist there will be a day later this season when restrictions on the Grom are lifted. deGrom himself believes it could happen within his next few starts.
For now, he is following the plan to keep him healthy until November.
“You want to be there, but at the same time it took so long to get back,” deGrom said. “You don’t want to do anything to be here for hopefully the push we’re going through, and hopefully in the World Series.”
On Saturday, that meant caution for deGrom, despite the two-time Cy Young Award winner’s continued efficient excellence. After giving up an one-out single to Rhys Hoskins in the first inning, deGrom retired 16 consecutive Phillies to Bryson Stott’s single in the sixth inning, relying almost exclusively on his fastball and slider. Early in that piece, deGrom struck out five batters in a row, displaying his usual erraticism with a fastball reaching 102 mph and a slider averaging 93 mph.
Since his return from the IL, deGrom has struckout 28 batters and walked one in 16 2/3 innings. His ERA is 1.62. His WHIP is 0.42. He has allowed two earned runs or less in 22 consecutive home starts, a major league record. He is the only pitcher in modern times (since 1901) to produce a three-start stretch in which he struckout at least 50 percent of batters while striking out four times as many baserunners.
“He’s the Grom,” Stott said, as if that explained everything.
“He’s on another planet,” Díaz clarified. “He’s the goat.”
Preventing runners from reaching base is a simple recipe for efficiency, so it was no surprise that deGrom completed six innings in just 76 pitches. It was also not a complete shock to see Lugo warm up almost immediately after leaving the field.
This is the deal for deGrom since his long-awaited return on August 2, when he threw 59 pitches in his first Major League outing in more than a year. The Mets are stretching the Grom in the major leagues. In fact, they do it slowly. Typically, in these situations, teams add one inning and about 15 pitches to a starter’s workload per rotation. Progression with deGrom was noticeably more conservative:
Start no. 1: 5 IP, 59 places
Start No. 2: 5 2/3 IP, 76 places
Start no. 3: 6 IP, 76 places
deGrom said the soft limit for him for Saturday’s start was 80 pitches, while for a typical starter it would have been around 90. That’s a concession not only to deGrom’s injury history, which included prolonged inflammation of the right elbow last summer and a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade this spring, but also the fact that MLB innings are taxing. Because the Mets are stretching the Grom at the top level, they don’t have the advantage of giving him extra rest days between each start.
“Am I chaining him?” manager Buck Showalter mused after the game. ‘I have a governor with me, what about that? We will see. We take each start as it comes.”
It helps Showalter make sure the Mets win, giving him the luxury of caution. While Phillies-starter Aaron Nola was nearly as sharp as deGrom on Saturday, Pete Alonso continued his career-long success against Nola with an RBI single in the first inning. At the time, Alonso said, he didn’t expect one run to last. But deGrom remained unbeatable, Lugo continued his own strong mid-season run and May looked dynamic in his top-leveraged performance since returning from injury.
The only late game stress for the Mets came when Díaz walked two batters in the ninth en route to his 200th save of his career, snapping his run of 50 consecutive batters who faced no free pass. It’s the kind of stat typically associated with deGrom — and it could be again if the Mets’ plan to keep him sane works.
“I think it’s looking at the long-term goal here,” deGrom said. “You have to step back and try to be smart about it.”