So that’s what it looks like when the Mets support Jacob deGrom. Finally able to hit with runners in scoring position, the Mets went 5-for-13 in those situations Monday to back their ace in a 7-2 win over the Braves at Truist Park. deGrom struck out 10 over six innings in a quality start, allowing the Mets to avoid a four-game sweep in Atlanta.
His greatest regret was a Travis d’Arnaud solo homer in the fifth inning, marking the first home run deGrom had allowed since a Wilmer Flores solo shot on Sept. 9, 2019.
“I guess I should stop facing my old teammates,” deGrom said, laughing.
Right now, it doesn’t seem to matter too much who faces the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, who was backed by a three-hit attack from Michael Conforto, a three-RBI game from Robinson Canó and Wilson Ramos’ first home run of the season. deGrom’s ERA stands at 2.12, though he has done some things differently this year to generate that success.
He’s mixing it up
In his first two starts, deGrom threw seven curveballs. Total. He then threw three of them to the first four Braves batters on Monday. Lacking his usual feel for his changeup, deGrom said he wanted something soft to take Atlanta’s hitters off-balance. Enter the curveball, which he began using exclusively as an out pitch, turning to it on two-strike counts against two of the Braves’ best hitters: Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna. Both struck out.
Recently, deGrom has worked on throwing the pitch a bit slower, though it still averaged 84 mph on Monday. Despite his success with the curveball, deGrom moved away from it completely after the third inning, focusing instead on his other three pitches.
“My thing is, I consider it my fourth-best pitch,” said deGrom, who allowed a .348 batting average on his curve last season. “I had a really good feel for everything early in the game, so I mixed it in … just for mainly a speed difference. But I really don’t want to get beat on my fourth-best pitch. That’s kind of the way I view it.”
He’s throwing harder than ever
Entering this season, deGrom had exceeded 100 mph with his fastball only once in his career, according to Statcast data. In his second start of 2020, he did so four times, throwing the fastest pitches of his career at 101.1 mph. Then on Monday, deGrom furthered the trend by throwing five pitches at triple digits (without the benefit of rounding up). The Braves didn’t put any of them in play.
Perhaps most striking is the fact that deGrom doesn’t seem to be working any harder to produce the increased velocity. To the contrary, deGrom -- a longtime proponent of constant long toss and a year-round daily throwing program -- believes he is simply more efficient with his mechanics than he’s ever been.
“This [coronavirus] break -- and even in spring, just working on my delivery -- I actually feel like it’s coming out with less effort than in years past,” deGrom said. “I think just with that time off, I continued to work on my delivery, and feel like everything’s kind of in line where I want it to be.”
No one can hit his slider
All told, deGrom generated 25 swings and misses in 104 pitches, tied for the third most in a single game in his career. Fifteen of those whiffs came on his slider, which averaged 93 mph and topped out at 94.4 mph.
But deGrom didn’t fall in love with the pitch. After allowing d’Arnaud’s homer on a slider, deGrom struck out Dansby Swanson on the same pitch, before throwing seven consecutive changeups -- the pitch he didn’t like to start the game -- to Johan Camargo and Ender Inciarte.
“He goes with what’s working that day,” Conforto said. “That’s what I’ve noticed about him. Some days, he doesn’t like his slider. I don’t know how you don’t like a 94 mph slider, but some days he doesn’t like it and he goes with his changeup. Some days, he goes with his fastball. He has that feel. He’s just got the complete package. I’m kind of sick of talking about how good he is, but I’m glad he’s on our team.”