NEW YORK -- Once a healthy Jacob deGrom stepped back into a Mets uniform on Tuesday, the idea of him dialing anything back -- his pitches, his swings, his sprints -- became laughable. This is deGrom, whom teammates routinely describe as the most competitive person they have ever met. Unleash him, and he will pounce.
So it was in the fourth inning of deGrom’s return from the injured list on Tuesday, when he ripped a single down the first-base line, lowered his head, and sprinted toward second base with alacrity. Although a replay review revealed that deGrom had popped off the bag for a fraction of a second, the play served to prove what the Mets already knew: deGrom was very much back.
The rest of deGrom’s contributions in a 3-1 win over the Rockies -- five effective innings, nine strikeouts, a slew of triple-digit radar-gun readings -- were about what the baseball world expected from him. For an injury-laden team as reliant on deGrom as ever, it was perhaps the most comforting development possible.
“It’s unbelievable,” said catcher Tomás Nido, whose two-run homer broke a sixth-inning tie at Citi Field. “Like a videogame.”
Hitting 100 mph with his first pitch of the evening, deGrom reached 101 on the radar gun and averaged 99 mph with his four-seam fastball. He threw that pitch 71 percent of the time in striking out nine Rockies batters without a walk, while allowing only three hits in total -- a solo homer to Ryan McMahon and two singles to Brendan Rodgers.
The Mets, who snapped a three-game losing streak at Colorado’s expense, considered that body of work plenty. Treading carefully with their ace, who had battled right-side tightness for most of the past month, the Mets limited deGrom to five innings and 63 pitches. He lowered his Major League-leading ERA to 0.80.
“This is who he is -- just a complete baseball player,” manager Luis Rojas said. “He was impressive again.”
It can be difficult for the Mets to describe just how much deGrom, a two-time NL Cy Young Award winner who remains the odds-on favorite to take home that award again this season, means to the team. Even as injuries have crippled every part of the Mets’ roster, from the rotation to the lineup to the bullpen and even the farm system, deGrom has always been the one who matters most. He is, objectively, the best and most important player on the team.
As such, deGrom’s health is paramount, leading to extreme caution whenever that comes even slightly into question. Over the past three seasons, deGrom has missed a handful of starts due to elbow, back and neck issues, sometimes going on the IL and other times avoiding it. The episodes have been irksome to both him and the Mets, but they have never developed into anything more than a missed start or two.
Instead, deGrom has always proven his durability over the long-term, starting more games over the past five seasons than all but five pitchers in Major League Baseball.
“I hate not going out there,” deGrom said. “It feels like you’re letting the team down.”
deGrom’s latest health scare was a bout of right-side tightness that cost him a start in late April, then continued to affect him as he tried to move beyond it. Officially, deGrom went on the IL on May 10, missing a bit more than two weeks with his injury.
Then he returned -- looking, as Nido said, “the same.” That meant a barrage of pitches fast enough to astonish even longtime Rockies manager Bud Black.
“In 40-plus years, I don't think I’ve ever seen a game where every fastball was over 95 miles an hour,” Black said, referring to deGrom and relievers Miguel Castro, Trevor May and Edwin Díaz. “That was, to say the least, impressive arm strength.”
It also meant a demonstration of talent, aggressiveness and confidence from deGrom, who paid no heed to his right side as he tried to stretch his single into a double in the fourth, and who demonstrated no ill effects after the play.
If it’s a harbinger for the Mets, it’s one they’ve been hoping to see for weeks.
“Everything felt good,” deGrom said. “My body felt good. So I’m looking forward to hopefully running out there every five days for the rest of the year.”