Senga shows off grit, battles way to another quality start

September 9th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- Buck Showalter has watched this season as put himself in the conversation among the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball and become a darkhorse Cy Young Award candidate in his first season after coming from Japan.

Showalter is equally impressed by outings like Friday night at Target Field, where Senga struggled with command but managed to record his 14th quality start in the Mets’ 5-2 loss to the Twins.

“A lot of guys would not have got through six innings, so I was proud of him,” Showalter said. “... I’m proud of his season. Tonight was a good example. A lot of times, those types of outings where you’re not carrying normal command of your pitches are more impressive.”

Senga allowed two runs on four hits and four walks in six innings, striking out five along the way in his first career start against Minnesota. His third strikeout of the day, when he was able to get Willi Castro to whiff on his forkball in the third inning, moved him past Jerry Koosman for sole possession of second place on the Mets' all-time list for strikeouts by a rookie. Senga finished the game with 181 K's on the season. Dwight Gooden holds the club rookie record with 276.

The four walks were his most in a game since June 10 against Pittsburgh. After walking at least four batters in seven of his first 12 starts in his initial MLB season, Senga hadn’t walked that many in his previous 13 starts before Friday.

“I know it wasn’t my best,” Senga said through interpreter Hiro Fujiwara. “But I know I really wanted to stay out there and go as long as I could, and that’s what I had in my mind.”

His desire to work and compete has made a strong impression on Showalter, who has 22 years managing experience in the Major Leagues.

Even when Senga hasn’t had his best stuff -- his signature forkball wasn’t fooling Twins batters on Friday, diving out of the zone for balls in many cases -- he’s kept his team in the game.

“He’s a competitive guy,” Showalter said. “I know he was frustrated with his command and feel early in the game, but he found a way to get through it. It’s impressive, it really is, because maybe six or seven starts a year you’re going to go out there with a feel for all of your pitches.”

Senga doesn’t take any start for granted, and he brought that competitiveness with him to the Mets.

“Just because I don’t feel good or I’m not feeling my best doesn’t mean I just fold and give up the game,” Senga said. “I’m given four or five days to prepare for this game, and I think it’s my job to stay out there and make the game winnable. And I take pride in that.”

Senga is closing his first season with the Mets on a strong note. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his past four starts. An All-Star, Senga now sits fifth in the National League in opponents' batting average (.209) and third in ERA (3.07).

The 30-year-old right-hander walked the second batter of the game, and he came around to score. Francisco Lindor plated two runs in the fourth to put New York ahead, but Minnesota answered back in the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer by Carlos Correa.

With control of his forkball off, Senga went to other pitches on Friday. He also said he looked to change velocity and location more.

“Just off mechanically, I wasn’t trying to make really good pitches or anything,” Senga said. “I just flat out missed the zone a lot of time. I honestly think I was lucky to be able to get out of it with two runs.”