Senga ghosts Rays into 12 K's, setting mark for Japanese Mets

May 18th, 2023

NEW YORK -- If the early season has taught the Mets anything about , it’s that his signature ghost forkball is as unhittable as they had hoped.

Senga set a Mets record for Japanese-born pitchers with 12 strikeouts in a walk-off, 8-7 win over the Rays on Wednesday night, using his forkball to significant effect against the most prolific power-hitting team in the Majors. Although Senga took a no-decision in the victory, it was in several respects the most electric outing of his young Major League career.

Senga struck out multiple batters in five of his six innings, joining Masato Yoshii, Hideo Nomo, Hisanori Takahashi and Daisuke Matsuzaka as the only Japanese-born Mets pitchers to record double-digit punchouts in a game. When Senga froze Randy Arozarena on a 96 mph fastball for the first out of the sixth inning, he emerged from that group as the only one to strike out 11 in a game. Senga then added one more to end his evening, punching out Taylor Walls on his 104th pitch.

“That’s his best command, and I hope it’s a sign of him settling in a little bit,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That was really fun to watch against obviously a real good lineup.”

Four of Senga’s strikeouts came on his ghost fork, a diving pitch so named for its now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t action. Senga’s calling card in Japan, the ghost fork (or splitter, as he refers to it) has proven just as effective on this side of the Pacific -- so much so that he hasn’t allowed a hard-hit ball on any of the 166 splitters he’s thrown this season. By that metric, it has been the most effective pitch in the Majors. (Second on the list is Luis García’s slider, which the Astros' starter has thrown 113 times without any hard contact.)

On Wednesday, the Rays swung at 11 of Senga’s ghost forks and whiffed on eight of them.

“Soon, it’s going to be a cat-and-mouse game,” Senga said through an interpreter. “Are they going to look for the fastball? Are they going to look for the splitter? I just need to make sure to make the right decision on what they’re looking for, and throw what they’re not looking for.”

Despite his electric stuff, there is room for Senga to improve, considering he boasts the fourth-highest walk rate in the Majors among pitchers with at least 43 innings. Senga’s ERA stands at 3.77, with his lone run allowed Wednesday coming on consecutive doubles from Brandon Lowe and Isaac Paredes in the fourth.

Afterward, Senga joked that he hoped the Citi Field crowd wouldn’t boo him, considering his parents, sister and sister’s fiancé had flown in from Japan to watch him pitch in the United States for the first time in person.

“I think I did well today,” Senga said. “I pitched like I knew how to.”