NEW YORK -- If four different injuries can’t stop Jacob deGrom, and a pair of “sticky stuff” checks can’t slow him, and even a hit-that-shouldn’t-have-been-a-hit can’t derail him, then the question seems obvious: Can anything?
Five days after exiting his last start due to right shoulder soreness, deGrom returned to the Citi Field mound looking very much like someone who had been fine all along. He retired the first eight batters he faced en route to a 4-2 win over the Braves in Game 1 of a doubleheader on Monday, finishing with five shutout innings overall. The only hit off deGrom came on a Kevan Smith fly ball to left-center that dropped between outfielders Dominic Smith and Albert Almora Jr., who both had a play on the ball.
deGrom wouldn’t have been in line for a no-hitter anyway, since seven-inning no-nos don’t count in Major League Baseball’s official record book. And the Mets might not have allowed him to go that far, considering their caution with deGrom coming off injury. But it was still a noteworthy moment for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who extended his scoreless streak to 30 innings and lowered his MLB-leading ERA to a microscopic 0.50.
deGrom also passed Bob Gibson with his 12th consecutive start of one or zero earned runs, the longest such single-season streak by a traditional starting pitcher in Major League history since earned runs became an official stat.
“That’s kind of the goal,” he said. “I have a set routine that I stay with and try to stay consistent in between and take it out on the field. It’s a pretty boring answer, but honestly that’s how I take the mound -- it’s one pitch at a time, and once the ball leaves your hand, it’s out of your control.”
The Mets struggled to support deGrom until the fifth, when Smith laced a three-run double into the right-field corner to extend their early one-run lead. It’s the type of sequence that’s happened more frequently these days during deGrom starts, helping him win five straight decisions despite a series of health scares, including right lat tightness, right flexor tendinitis and right shoulder soreness.
It was with all that in mind that manager Luis Rojas removed deGrom after only 70 pitches -- a decision made significantly easier by the fact that Smith’s ball found grass. Had deGrom still been working on a no-hitter after five innings, Rojas acknowledged, “Maybe it would have been a different conversation.”
The chat that did take place was mostly about deGrom’s health. He felt fine physically throughout the start, despite some mechanical issues that led to a walk of opposing pitcher Kyle Muller with two outs in the third. And the Mets figured that was enough. Their overall plan this season has been to tread cautiously with deGrom, coming off a pandemic-shortened season in which he made only 12 starts. Lately, they’ve erred even further on the side of caution given deGrom’s series of minor aches and pains.
Along the way, team officials have constantly asked deGrom for feedback, with expectations that he will be open and honest.
“I’ve said it before: I do not like coming out of baseball games,” deGrom said, referring to his previous start, in which he exited after three perfect innings. “Hopefully, that last one was the last time this year.”
So if injuries can’t stop deGrom, perhaps truly nothing can. Per the new protocols, deGrom was also checked twice for "sticky stuff" in the game without incident.
“Honestly, I didn’t mind it,” he said. “It was quick, and it went pretty easy. We were told that we were going to be checked ... and it was actually pretty easy walking off the field.”