Peterson steps up to fill missing aces' void

June 26th, 2022

MIAMI -- While the Mets deal with some big holes in their starting rotation, missing aces Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, the club has been more reliant on the latter part of their starting staff. In particular, David Peterson has stepped up. 

In his second game against the Marlins in six days, Peterson delivered a season-high seven innings at loanDepot park on Sunday, seemingly putting the cherry on top of the Mets’ five-game road trip and all but clinching a series sweep in Miami -- until a walk-off homer in the ninth handed the Mets a 3-2 loss and sent them back to New York with a 2-3 record on their trip.

“He held his stuff,” manager Buck Showalter said of Peterson. “That was impressive, to see him go that deep in the game, especially [because] we were short in the bullpen. … That’s a good step for him as a pitcher.”

“He's been huge for us, stepping up -- he stepped up for us last year before breaking his foot,” said Taijuan Walker, who threw six innings in Friday’s series-opening win. “I think all of us, we just kind of just learn from each other and we kind of just kind of piggyback off each other. One guy has a good start, we just kind of keep the train rolling.”

The momentum from Walker’s quality outing on Friday to Chris Bassitt’s seven innings on Saturday, combined with the consistent communication between Mets starters, provided a boost for Peterson.

On Saturday, Peterson picked Walker’s brain regarding the best approach against the NL East division foes; both were facing the Marlins for the second time in a week, and Walker advised Peterson to “keep the same game plan until they make you change it, and you just make that in-game adjustment.” 

That’s exactly what Peterson did. Though he allowed a run apiece in the first and third innings, the lefty did not walk a batter while notching a season-high eight strikeouts, all swinging. Six of those strikeouts came via his slider.

The slider has been Peterson’s not-so-secret weapon this season: 36 of his 50 strikeouts have come on his slider, including fanning the side in the bottom of the second inning on Sunday. 

“I felt like I had a good feel of [my slider],” Peterson said. “I could throw it where I wanted to put it, in spots I could get them to just swing over it. … I was able to keep them off-balance for the most part to be able to get those strikeouts.”

Even against a lineup that boasted four new hitters whom Peterson didn’t face on Monday, that left five, including the top of Miami’s order, he had just seen his last time out. Still, half of his strikeouts Sunday came against repeat opponents.

It was proof that maintaining his approach, going with the combination of fastballs, changeups and sliders, worked well. It was also proof that the few stumbles the southpaw faced earlier this season weren’t going to define his 2022.

“He’s been solid,” outfielder Mark Canha said. “The games that get away from him, I feel like a lot of times it’s just like bad luck. A couple of bloop hits here and there … it feels like he’s had a lot of bad luck, and I feel like today he was just really on the ball, really focused on attacking. 

“What struck me was the early outs he was getting, outs early in the count. … He just got on a roll there and kind of got some momentum.”

Peterson was indeed attacking batters and getting outs early. Excluding his strikeouts, all but three of the outs he recorded were in four pitches or fewer. That includes three first-pitch outs, which all came in the fourth inning or later. 

Plus, Peterson often worked ahead in counts. He pulled ahead in the count in four of his eight strikeouts.

 “A lot of them, I felt like I was able to get ahead in the count -- 1-2, 0-2 -- and just finish the at-bat,” Peterson said. “That was the biggest thing, when I get ahead, to be able to throw that putaway pitch and be able to get them out.”