NEW YORK -- Robert Gsellman has a starter’s repertoire. He’s always had a starter’s repertoire, from the day he debuted in 2016 to the seven successful starts he made down the stretch that season.
As his career progressed and he became a reliever, Gsellman seemed destined to remain in the bullpen. Unlike teammate Seth Lugo, with whom he’s often linked, Gsellman made it known that he enjoyed relief work as much as starting -- the late adrenaline rush, the game on the line, that sort of thing. Though Gsellman never experienced quite the same type of success in the bullpen, the Mets seemed to like him there as well.
Only clear and obvious necessity could have changed his career arc. Missing three of their top six starters, the Mets on Wednesday committed to Gsellman not just as their starting pitcher in a 11-6 win over the Nationals, but as a member of their rotation for at least the rest of this season.
“Right now, he’s part of the rotation,” manager Luis Rojas said. “That’s how I see it. … That’s what we’re looking for him now, for this season. Past that is something obviously that we can discuss. But right now, this is the plan according to the circumstances that have fallen into place.”
Gsellman began the conversion process with two innings against the Nationals at Citi Field -- the first one bad, the second one better. After Trea Turner doubled, Adam Eaton singled and Juan Soto cranked a 466-foot home run onto the upper-deck concourse in right, Gsellman settled down to retire the final five batters he faced. Along the way, he showcased the pitch mix that the Mets believe can make him a successful starter again, including a fastball that eclipsed 96 mph, a sinker that reached 95 mph and two distinct breaking balls.
“Man, I was so nervous,” Gsellman said. “I felt like a little kid again. To go through your proper warmup, your routine that you knew since you were in high school … it felt good to go through that.”
Gsellman did not factor into the decision for the Mets, who supported him with four runs in the bottom of the first before breaking through for five more -- including a Michael Conforto two-run double and back-to-back homers by Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith -- in the sixth. But he figures to play a more prominent role in many future games. With Noah Syndergaard out for the season and Marcus Stroman electing not to play, Gsellman has become a rotation solution for the Mets.
In the short term, he will take the place of Michael Wacha, who is on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. In the long term, he could challenge Wacha, Steven Matz or David Peterson for a job. The Mets will spend the next few weeks building Gsellman’s workload back up from the 33 pitches he threw on Wednesday to a normal starter’s capacity by month’s end.
“We feel really good that he can do that,” Rojas said. “He can have some stamina for us. Once we keep stretching him out, he’s going to be one of our guys who can give us that depth to start a game.”
Gsellman, 27, successfully debuted as a starting pitcher back in 2016, posting a 2.63 ERA in seven starts down the stretch that season. He spent significant time in the rotation the following year as well, but produced a 5.29 ERA in those games. By 2018, the Mets -- with a stacked rotation -- had converted Gsellman to full-time relief work, envisioning him as a multi-inning weapon similar to Chad Green, Andrew Miller or other successful firemen around the league.
It didn’t quite work out that way for Gsellman, who proved inconsistent as a reliever and lost time due to injuries. Gsellman missed the first two and a half weeks of this season because of a strained right triceps muscle, but he returned to pitch a scoreless inning of relief last Saturday.
Along the way, he realized he missed his old job. Taxed by the daily grind of bullpen work, Gsellman began pining once more for a chance to start. He made that viewpoint known, much as Lugo has for years, and the Mets obliged both by asking them to stretch out as starters last offseason.
When the time came to dip into that depth, however, the Mets did not want to remove Lugo from his role as one of baseball’s best relievers. They instead turned to Gsellman, who happily accepted.
“I’m prepared to go as a starter, whatever they need,” Gsellman said. “I love to start. It’s a lot more fun. So we’ll see.”