SAN FRANCISCO -- About a month ago, Jacob deGrom happened to walk inside Citi Field's home clubhouse as John Smoltz, a Hall of Fame pitcher-turned-FOX color commentator, was on air discussing his old habit of throwing multiple side sessions between starts.Like Smoltz, deGrom threw multiple side sessions, or "bullpens," for
SAN FRANCISCO -- About a month ago, Jacob deGrom happened to walk inside Citi Field's home clubhouse as John Smoltz, a Hall of Fame pitcher-turned-FOX color commentator, was on air discussing his old habit of throwing multiple side sessions between starts.
Like Smoltz, deGrom threw multiple side sessions, or "bullpens," for a spell in 2015, but eventually abandoned the habit. Curious, he texted Smoltz, who broke down the strategy's benefits.
Since that time, deGrom has used Smoltz's advice to significant effect. His eight-inning, one-run performance in Saturday's 5-2 Mets win over the Giants lowered his ERA to 0.72 over his last three starts, each of them victories. At a time in which multiple facets of the Mets are in disarray, deGrom has entered one of the signature stretches of his career.
"That's what an ace does," teammate Jay Bruce said. "It's come to the point now where I'm always wondering if he's going back out in the ninth inning to finish the game. You don't get that from a lot of guys."
For much of the first two-plus months of the season, the Mets were not getting that from deGrom, either, as the former National League Rookie of the Year fought a weekly battle with his mechanics. Though deGrom was striking out batters at an elite clip, his overall body of work was inconsistent. As recently as June 6, his ERA stood at 4.75.
It was around that time that deGrom began experimenting with his new bullpen approach, throwing two side sessions of 15-20 pitches at around 70-percent intensity, as opposed to the single, longer, session that most starting pitchers use. The idea, in deGrom's words, was to become "more familiar" with his delivery, better able to diagnose small mechanical errors before they festered and became significant issues.
In his conversation with deGrom, Smoltz said he threw multiple side sessions for 10 years while writing a resume as one of his generation's elite pitchers.
Since he began mimicking Smoltz in the bullpen, deGrom has also done so on the stadium mound, going 3-0 with 12 hits, seven walks and 19 strikeouts in 25 innings over his last three starts.
"That's what I want to do every time out there," deGrom said. "That's what I expect from myself, and I think that's why those other ones were so frustrating, going out there and not finding a way to get outs."
Against the Giants, deGrom allowed his only run on a Brandon Belt leadoff homer in the seventh inning, using consecutive strikeouts to escape a runners-on-the-corners, one-out jam in the fourth.
"He can get a strikeout when he wants," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, wary of a pitcher his team has beaten just once in six tries. Had deGrom's spot in the batting order not arisen in the top of the ninth, he might have had a chance at his second complete game in three starts.
As it was, deGrom settled for eight innings, four hits, seven strikeouts and a walk -- the type of dominant performance for which Smoltz was known.
"He's starting to pitch," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "That's what we want out of him. I don't care about the strikeouts. I just want him to get outs."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.