Zack Scott joined the Red Sox front office in 2004, giving him a firsthand look at Pedro Martinez’s final year in Boston. The three-time Cy Young Award winner was at the tail end of his prime, but prior to working for the Red Sox, Scott had seen the best Martinez had to offer while sitting at Fenway Park as a fan.
“I remember going to the game against the Blue Jays [in 1999] when Pedro got his 300th strikeout,” said Scott, who never thought he would see another pitcher as dominant as Martinez. “It was almost unfair.”
Watching Jacob deGrom this season has the Mets’ acting general manager rethinking that belief.
“This is definitely the best I have seen since then,” Scott said. “It’s silly. It was fun to watch his bullpens in Spring Training, which is not something I would normally say about anyone.”
deGrom has a minuscule 0.31 ERA through his first four starts, allowing one earned run over 29 innings. The two-time National League Cy Young winner has struck out 50 batters and walked just three, fanning at least 14 in each of his past three starts.
“There aren’t many guys you watch where you’re just shaking your head thinking how unbelievable it is,” Scott said. “You just feel fortunate every time you watch him, because he’s so special. He’s getting better with age; his velocity is up, which defies logic and what’s normal. I’m definitely appreciating the moment and living in the moment every time he pitches because it’s really fun.”
deGrom’s next start is slated for Wednesday against the Red Sox, the team Scott left this past offseason after 17 seasons in Boston.
The Rays way
Just months removed from the second American League pennant in franchise history, the Rays have not gotten off to the type of start they hoped for in 2021.
But despite their record falling to 11-12 with Monday night’s 2-1 loss to the Athletics, the Rays have caught the eye of executives around the league as they attempt to defend their league title.
“They’re an interesting team,” one American League executive said. “They’re not star-studded like when they had [Evan] Longoria at third or [David] Price on the mound, but they play the game really well.”
Two execs pointed to Joey Wendle as a perfect example, noting his versatility (he’s started games at second base, shortstop, third base and left field during his career), offensive production (.892 OPS this season) and relative anonymity.
“They don’t care how famous the players are; they only care how good they are,” a second AL executive said. “If some of those players played in New York or Boston, they would be viewed differently.”
The Rays have hovered near the top of the AL East despite a slew of injuries this season, most notably in the bullpen, where six pitchers who had figured into the team’s plans -- Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, Collin McHugh, Chaz Roe, Ryan Sherriff and Cody Reed -- are currently sidelined.
The relief corps is 21st in the Majors with a 4.41 ERA, though the bullpen has allowed just one run over 20 1/3 innings over the past four games, showing signs of life after a difficult start to the season.
“They’ve got good arms, and they’re creative,” said the first exec. “They always seem to have another wave of pitchers coming.”
This past weekend, two of those young pitchers -- Brent Honeywell Jr. and Luis Patiño -- started against Toronto. Honeywell -- who finally debuted this year after a long road that included four arm surgeries since 2017 -- struggled as an opener and was optioned to make room for Patiño, who threw 2 2/3 scoreless (and hitless) innings on Sunday.
Patiño made history of sorts in his start, becoming the first player in Rays history to be younger than the franchise; Patino was born in October 1999, nearly 19 months after Tampa Bay played its inaugural game.
While much has been made of slow starts by the Yankees, Twins and Cubs, some other teams have stood out as early-season surprises for their solid play.
No team fits the bill better than the Pirates, who were projected by many to be the worst team in the Majors prior to the season. Pittsburgh entered the week 11-11, tied with the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central.
“The Pirates being at .500 right now is kind of wild,” a rival NL executive said. “They’re a scrappy team; that’s a fun thing for them. Credit to Derek Shelton and what those guys are doing. I don’t know if it’s sustainable, but for them to be at .500 right now, that’s something.”
An AL executive mentioned the Pirates, Orioles (10-12) and Mariners (13-10) as three of the most surprising teams during the season’s first month.
“In certain ways, there’s been more parity than most people expected,” the AL exec said. “Even the teams people thought wouldn’t have great summers haven’t really buried themselves; Pittsburgh, Baltimore, they’ve put some wins on the board. It’s good for baseball to have teams come out of the gate like that.”