'Just freeing': Bassitt turns it around with 8 shutout innings

June 15th, 2022

NEW YORK -- In the days following statistically one of the worst starts of his career, spoke to his longtime teammate, Mark Canha, who urged him to stop pitching so tentatively to hitters. Bassitt apologized to his catchers, Tomás Nido and Patrick Mazeika, for not being more direct with them about his game plans. He pored over the data on a month’s worth of mistakes. He flew back from the West Coast early to catch some extra rest and prepare for his next start against the Brewers.

Bassitt did, in short, everything possible to fix what ailed him. Six days later, he responded with one of the finest starts of his career, delivering eight shutout innings in a 4-0 win on Tuesday evening over Milwaukee.

“He’s a great pitcher,” Canha said. “Executing is the hardest part, right? But the change in mentality is just going to help him so much.”

The most obvious difference was Bassitt’s strike-throwing at every point in the night. Bassitt threw more strikes in Tuesday’s victory than he had total pitches last time out in San Diego. That included first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 26 batters he faced at Citi Field. His strike rate rose from 60 percent to 71 percent.

Bassitt didn’t change his pitch mix in too meaningful of a way, sprinkling in a few more curveballs, a few less sliders. But he used all six of his offerings aggressively, allowing him to face the minimum number of batters over the first four innings. By the eighth, Bassitt was still grooving, striking out four of the final five Brewers he faced to complete his longest outing as a Met.

“You could tell early on, he was aggressive,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We’ve seen the level he’s capable of pitching at, and I know how frustrating it’s been for him here lately. But guys like him, you just trust the moxie and the want-to they have. They figure it out and they make adjustments.”

For Bassitt, that meant spending significant time between starts with Nido to “get on the same page.” When regular Mets catcher James McCann landed on the injured list in May, Nido became the nominal starter, but Bassitt never spent much time talking to him about game plans or personal preferences. Instead, the veteran shook off countless pitch calls on the mound, leading to frustration from both men. It was not until their conversation last week that the two began to understand each other.

“I was able to completely break down what was going on,” Bassitt said. “I just thought me and Nido were off. We weren’t on the same page at all. The more and more I fought, the worse and worse I did.”

“Today, we went a different route and it worked,” Nido added.

All told, Bassitt produced a 7.62 ERA over a five-start stretch from May 19 through June 8, throwing to Nido in four of those outings and Mazeika in the other. Bassitt hadn’t won a game since May 8.

Following his seven-run blowup against the Padres, the right-hander struggled to define the problem. That’s where Canha, who played alongside him for six seasons in Oakland, came in. Noticing how passive Bassitt was operating in recent starts, Canha urged him to challenge hitters by trusting his stuff inside the strike zone. Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner offered similar thoughts, setting up game-like scenarios during Bassitt’s bullpen session as a way to push him to be more aggressive.

“It seemed to me like he was trying to be too careful,” Canha said. “I had a feeling that he already knew that and was already ready to make the adjustment, but I’m sure it was nice for him to hear that, just for some reassurance that somebody else saw the same thing.”

Even when the Brewers did hit the ball on Tuesday, the Mets’ improved defense had no trouble handling it. In the third inning, Brandon Nimmo made a diving catch on a sinking liner to rob Hunter Renfroe of an extra-base hit. (Statcast tracked the catch probability at 20 percent.) In the sixth, Luis Guillorme and Francisco Lindor made a nifty turn on Bassitt’s third double-play ball of the evening.

The Mets received all the offense they needed early in the evening, including two RBIs by Pete Alonso to maintain the National League lead, with 59. But the game was all about Bassitt, whose work over the last week allowed him to rediscover his rhythm.

“I really regret not doing it a couple weeks ago, but I just didn’t know,” Bassitt said. “I made a key judgment error that lasted a couple weeks. So tonight … was just freeing.”