What's the state of the Mets' rotation?

April 10th, 2024

ATLANTA -- The good news is that the Mets appear to be past the worst of their rotation troubles. Three rainouts, two extra-inning games and a doubleheader during their initial homestand resulted in such a pitching dilemma that the club had to sign right-hander Julio Teheran just to keep plugging away at its season.

Teheran is gone now after providing a total of eight outs. But the bad news is that New York isn’t out of the proverbial pitching woods just yet. Fifth starter allowed five runs in a 6-5 loss to the Braves on Tuesday night at Truist Park, rendering two late Mets rallies moot. Four other starters are on the injured list. And the organization is not quite ready to dip into its stable of top prospects.

Where does that leave the Mets? Essentially, like this:

The current rotation: Luis Severino, Sean Manaea, Jose Quintana and Houser
As a unit, these four have been solid if unspectacular over their first two rotation turns. The standout has been Manaea, whose gains from last September seem real. Over his last half-dozen starts dating to the end of his Giants tenure, Manaea has gone 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA. His sweeper and changeup, both of which he revamped over the past year, feature whiff rates above 50 percent in a small sample. In other words, Manaea appears to be onto something.

Less encouraging have been the results of Houser, who allowed six consecutive hits on 14 total pitches to open the bottom of the third inning Tuesday in Atlanta.

“That’s a good-hitting ballclub over there,” Houser said. “Especially when they smell blood in the water, they’re going to go after it.”

Through two rotation turns, the Mets’ top four healthy starters have gone a combined 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA. It’s hard to see any of those four losing their jobs in the coming weeks. New York will continue to rely on each of them every five days, at least until some of the club’s injured pitchers begin to return.

The depth: José Buttó, Joey Lucchesi
This list sure is shorter than it used to be, isn’t it? Barring something unforeseen, Buttó will reenter the rotation on Saturday. The Mets had optioned him before the start of the season, which made him ineligible for an immediate recall and forced them to sign Teheran. That’s all in the past now, and New York is excited about what Buttó can provide. Counting the Majors, Minors and Grapefruit League, Buttó owns a 2.61 ERA over his past 11 outings.

Lucchesi reported to camp behind other Mets starters and has been playing catchup ever since, with poor results in Spring Training. He’s been better at Triple-A since the start of the season but is clearly below Buttó on the depth chart as of now.

The injured quartet: Kodai Senga, Tylor Megill, David Peterson, Max Kranick
Manager Carlos Mendoza didn’t have a significant update this week on Senga (right shoulder capsule strain), who continues to throw off flat ground. Each day that passes without Senga climbing atop a mound decreases his chances of returning in May. The Mets don’t plan to rush him.

Megill (right shoulder strain) recently delayed his own throwing program due to illness. His timeline remains unclear, but the right-hander’s return is certainly not imminent. Neither is the comeback of Peterson (recovery from left hip surgery), who isn’t eligible to come off the IL until May 27. It’s not out of the question, then, that Kranick (left hamstring strain) could be the first of this group to return; he’s been injured since February but recently began a Minor League rehab assignment. If needed, Kranick might be able to help the rotation by the end of the month.

More than anything, these injuries have limited the options of Mendoza and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Before the season, those two spoke about potentially inserting a sixth man into the rotation during this current stretch of 15 games in 14 days. Without much depth to lean on, the Mets have abandoned such plans.

“I don’t know that we’re in a situation or a position right now where we can talk about a sixth starter,” Mendoza said. “We’ve got to get through this stretch where we’re playing so many games in a row, and we’ve got to go day by day. Hopefully, everybody stays healthy and continues to throw the ball well.”

The prospects: Christian Scott (No. 5), Mike Vasil (No. 11), Dom Hamel (No. 14)
If any doubt remained that Scott had leapfrogged Vasil on the organization’s depth chart, the early Minor League season has erased it. In his first start for Triple-A Syracuse, Scott struck out nine batters while generating 20 whiffs on 82 pitches. Vasil, meanwhile, has struggled, with a 10.13 ERA in two starts. Developmentally, Hamel remains a bit behind the other two.

Until the Mets decide to call those players up, however, they’ll remain beacons of hope for another day. At last check, team officials weren’t close to making such a move.