The Mets’ identity has been flipped on its head this season. The franchise’s rise in recent years was tied directly to the arrival of its young, talented pitching. The team’s hitting, however, often lagged behind.
Through a frustrating first two months this season, the opposite has been true. The offense has kept the Mets (20-26) afloat, while injuries and inconsistencies have sunk the team’s pitching staff to the statistical bottom of the major leagues.
Friday’s game represented something of a return to normalcy. Second baseman Neil Walker, a Pittsburgh native now in his second season with the Mets, powered the offense with two home runs and four R.B.I.
“We’re trying to get back to winning baseball and winning series,” Walker said. “We’re getting healthy and you can see the lineup is more comfortable.”
But deGrom did the heaviest lifting. He allowed one run in the fourth inning and had an efficient night, taking the mound in the ninth inning with a pitch count of 111. DeGrom told Collins he wanted the ball in the ninth, and Collins had decided to push his starter to 120 pitches.
DeGrom gave up a leadoff single to Gregory Polanco and struck out David Freese before Collins pulled him for reliever Fernando Salas, who recorded the final two outs.
“This might have been the best he was all season,” Walker said of deGrom. “In, out, up, down. Fastballs, sliders, changeups. He was really, really sharp. He picked us up tonight and gave the relievers the breather they much needed.”
Walker, who spent seven seasons with the Pirates, smashed a two-run homer in the third inning and added a solo shot in the fifth. His bloop single in the sixth gave the Mets a 6-1 lead.
Lucas Duda followed Walker and extended that lead with a two-run double in the sixth. Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce each drove in a run.
“Our offense has provided a good punch for us, especially with the situation with our pitching,” Collins said before the game.
Entering Friday, Mets starters ranked second to last in the majors with a 5.18 earned run average. The struggles of Matt Harvey and Robert Gsellman have been the biggest drag on the rotation, but even deGrom went through a brief stretch of oddly uneven pitching this month.
DeGrom righted himself by throwing two light bullpen sessions in between starts, a trick he tried in 2015. He said it improved his feel for his fastball, and said it made a “huge difference” in helping him keep his delivery consistent late in the game.
“It’s more free and easy,” deGrom said of his delivery. “Less effort but with the same amount of velocity.”
DeGrom had a strong outing last week, tossing seven scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels in a 3-0 victory. The Mets bought him an extra day of rest by pushing his start back to Friday, in part because rain threatened to postpone their game in New York on Thursday.
When he took the mound Friday, deGrom was once again effective. His precision and the movement of his pitches baffled the Pirates.
“I was able to throw it where I wanted when I wanted,” deGrom said.
The Mets’ battered pitching staff may receive help soon. Steven Matz and Seth Lugo, who have been out all season with elbow injuries, are scheduled to make minor league starts Sunday. Matz is set to start for Class AAA Las Vegas and Lugo for Class AA Binghamton. Both have made two appearances already in their rehabilitation assignments.
When Matz and Lugo are ready, they could be inserted into the rotation to take the spots vacated by Syndergaard, who has been out since May 1 with a latissimus strain, and Tommy Milone, a replacement starter who landed on the disabled list this week with a knee sprain.
While Matz and Lugo could be significant boosts for the pitching staff, the team would be counting on players with injury concerns to turn the season around. Given the Mets’ recent history with injuries, relying on players like that could prove to be wishful thinking.
DeGrom, however, provided a vintage performance Friday night and received plenty of offensive support. Collins said the Mets will continue to lean on deGrom to help them dig themselves out of their hole.
“We’re going to get hot,” deGrom said. “We have too good of players to not win ballgames. Once everybody gets back and ready to go, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Nearing a return, Yoenis Cespedes, who has been out since April 28 with a left hamstring strain, played six innings in left field and went 0 for 2 with a walk and run scored in his first minor league rehabilitation game on Friday with the Class A St. Lucie Mets. “It was good to get back on the field today,” Cespedes said through the Mets. “It’s been really hard being away from the team.” … To add a fresh arm to the bullpen, the Mets optioned the struggling Rafael Montero to Class AAA Las Vegas and called up the right-hander Tyler Pill for the first time in his career.
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