NEW YORK -- Make no mistake, Jerad Eickhoff is a rotation patch -- which on the 2021 Mets means he has a chance to play a significant role. Several times this season, the Mets passed on promoting Eickhoff before a flurry of circumstances, including another rotation injury and a string of doubleheaders, prompted them to make the move this week.
When the Mets did, Eickhoff held up his end of the bargain, providing four scoreless innings before the Braves bested New York’s bullpen in a 1-0 win at Citi Field. The Mets had won Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader, 4-2, to earn a split.
Or perhaps “to survive a split” would be the better terminology. Earlier Monday, the Mets placed two relievers -- Robert Gsellman and Jeurys Familia -- on the injured list, while also learning that starting pitcher Joey Lucchesi had suffered a significantly torn UCL in his left elbow. So while Eickhoff’s presence was due more to the fact that the Mets were playing the second of three doubleheaders over a seven-day stretch, the reality is the Mets will need to rely on him -- and others like him -- quite a bit over the next few weeks.
“It’s just another challenge,” manager Luis Rojas said. “You can put it up in the pile of challenges.”
Although Game 2 of the doubleheader began inauspiciously for Eickhoff, with a leadoff double and a bases-loaded, one-out jam, he escaped that without incident en route to four shutout frames. Those included some stressful innings for Eickhoff, who needed 77 pitches to complete them, and so Rojas asked Miguel Castro to enter for the fifth. Castro promptly served up a Ronald Acuña Jr. solo homer, which proved to be the difference.
The Mets did rally in the ninth, loading the bases with one out against Braves closer Will Smith. But Kevin Pillar lined out and Brandon Drury popped up to end things, ensuring that the Mets would lug their 29th-ranked scoring offense into another day.
New York’s pitching staff, in contrast, ranks first in ERA despite injuries to Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, and now three others. So short-handed are the Mets these days that they did not announce Eickhoff as their Game 2 starter until about a half hour before its scheduled first pitch. They still haven’t announced a starter for Wednesday’s series finale, in what could become a theme over the next few weeks.
It also should provide opportunities for Eickhoff and others.
“This is what I work for,” said Eickhoff, a sixth-year veteran who was making his first MLB appearance since 2019. “This is what I prepare for in the offseason. I worked extremely hard over the past couple of years … to be in a position to have this opportunity. I don’t know what’s going to unfold here, but you just try to put your best foot forward and go from there.”