Mets lean on reliable rotation understudies

Peterson K's 5 in 5 solid IP vs. Marlins after stepping into rotation for injured Quintana

April 1st, 2023

MIAMI -- When the Mets drew up roster blueprints this offseason, their plans included the most expensive rotation in Major League history ($128.6 million), which bought them five pitchers all aged 30 or older. The headliners were , 40, and , 37. Understanding the risks that come along with those numbers, the organization built what contingency plans it could.

It just didn’t envision triggering the plans so quickly.

The second game of the season featured the first exigency for the Mets, as drew the start, a 2-1 loss to the Marlins on Friday night. Saturday will bring another, as is set to replace injured co-ace Verlander at loanDepot Park. Those two will each pitch again next week, with Megill tabbed for the home opener.

It may not be how the Mets wanted the early season to unfold, but they’re nonetheless comfortable with Peterson and Megill serving as their first level of rotation depth.

“Sure, I imagined it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Every phone call [general manager] Billy [Eppler] and I had was about the depth and the what-ifs, the what-ifs, the what-ifs.”

Entering Spring Training, the Mets were content to have Peterson serving as their nominal sixth starter. A former first-round Draft pick, Peterson debuted in 2020 but took a significant step forward last season, despite a chaotic schedule that saw the Mets shuttle him back and forth frequently from Triple-A Syracuse. While logging frequent flier miles, Peterson produced a 3.83 ERA over 19 starts and nine relief appearances, firmly entrenching himself in the Mets’ plans.

So when the Mets lost José Quintana to rib surgery in mid-March, they knew Peterson would be next up on their depth chart. Friday, he showed why. Allowing just one run on a Jorge Soler homer, Peterson struck out five Marlins and walked just one, as teammates Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Francisco Lindor buoyed him with standout defense.

“It’s nice to pitch when you know balls are hit and guys are there and they’re going to make the plays,” Peterson said. “They did a hell of a job.”

That New York lost for the first time this season was not the fault of Peterson, nor even of an offense that mustered four hits. To a man, the Mets credited Marlins starter Jesús Luzardo, a hard-throwing left-hander who silenced them into the sixth. By the time Alonso hit a solo homer off reliever A.J. Puk in the ninth, the Mets were moments away from defeat.

To avoid similar fates in the future, the team will continue to rely on Peterson as well as Megill, who did not initially break camp with the team. Only after flying to Syracuse in preparation for Opening Day did Megill learn of Verlander’s injury. Within a few hours, he was back at the airport.

“A lot of emotions,” was how Megill described it. “But things don’t change. You come up here and you compete, do your best to your capabilities.”

The abilities of Peterson and Megill to achieve that will be crucial, even if Verlander returns by mid-April. Eventually, other starters will suffer injuries -- such is life as a Major League pitcher. And eventually, the Mets will be forced to lean on additional depth starters such as , and .

For now, though, New York will continue relying on Megill and Peterson, two reliable understudies for a headline-grabbing starting five.

“I’m not thinking about previous years. I’m not thinking about anything,” Peterson said when asked about his role on the team. “I was told I was going to start this game, and that’s been my whole focus. That’s going to be my focus every day is getting ready for the next one. I want to contribute and help this team win.”