Mets intend to be 'smart' with Senga's innings

Japanese right-hander feels strong, logs six quality frames in win over Braves

August 14th, 2023

NEW YORK -- From the moment the Mets signed  to a five-year, $75 million contract last offseason, they began searching for ways to keep their investment healthy and effective.

Initially, that meant skipping the World Baseball Classic -- Senga’s decision, with input from the club -- amidst a slow spring progression. Once the regular season began, the Mets made certain to give Senga an extra day of rest between starts to mimic a once-per-week Japanese pitching schedule.

Now that the Mets have become slightly less rigid in that regard, they’re looking forward to the end game: how to guide Senga into his first American offseason in a way that will set him up for success in 2024.

Mostly, that means monitoring his innings, though team officials say they don’t have a hard number on how many they want him to throw. After pitching six more quality innings in a 7-6 win over the Braves on Sunday night at Citi Field, Senga ran his season total to 122 2/3.

Modest even by modern standards, that total ranks 50th in the Majors. Nonetheless, it has the potential to pull him toward rarely charted territory. Pitching once per week in Japan, Senga never threw more than 180 1/3 innings in a season. He exceeded 148 just twice in 11 seasons.

“I think it’s just smart that we look at that,” manager Buck Showalter said, “and that it doesn’t sneak up on us.”

On the right side of Showalter’s desk at Citi Field is a piece of paper detailing Senga’s history: the number of starts he’s made, the number of innings he’s thrown, what he’s done historically, and roughly where the Mets would like to see him end up in his first year in the Majors.

Although Showalter has some general thoughts in mind about the number of starts and innings Senga should make, general manager Billy Eppler cautioned that the situation is fluid, depending upon benchmark measures and Senga’s personal feedback.

Specifically, the Mets are keeping track of Senga’s pitch metrics, pitch shapes, location data, weight room statistics and training room data, looking for any signs of degradation as he enters new territory. So far, Senga has shown none.

“All systems are fine,” Eppler said, “so we keep moving forward.”

The on-field results are promising as well. Facing a Braves lineup that pounded out 34 runs over the first three games of this four-game series, Senga allowed three more in the first inning in the finale before growing stout.

From the first through fifth innings, he retired 13 consecutive batters. In the sixth, he emphatically clapped his hand into his glove when Pete Alonso made a diving stop to rob Eddie Rosario of a hit. That came on Senga’s 107th and final pitch, lowering his ERA to 3.30.

“I feel strong on the mound, and I think I can get through this season on a high note,” Senga said through an interpreter. “On-field care, off-field care, I think I’m doing what I can to maintain my high performance on the field.”

In his first MLB season, Senga has now made 22 starts. If he throws every fifth game for the rest of the season, he will finish with a career-high 30. Should the Mets give him an extra day of rest here and there, he will finish with 29.

Regarding innings, Senga isn’t likely to approach the career-high 180 1/3 he threw in 2019. If he continues to average fewer than six per start, Senga will finish somewhere between 160 and 170 innings -- about a 10 percent increase over what he logged last year for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

According to Eppler, the Mets are fine with that. What Senga does in 2023 won’t necessarily dictate what he is capable of doing in the future.

But the Mets will keep tabs on him all the while to make sure his excellent rookie season has an uneventful ending.