Senga inefficient in short outing against Cubs

May 25th, 2023

CHICAGO -- ’s former team, the SoftBank Hawks, play their home games at Fukuoka PayPay Dome on the southern island of Kyushu, where the atmosphere is climate controlled and comfortable for a starting pitcher. That was generally true when Senga pitched on the road in Japan, as well. Of the 12 primary stadiums in Nippon Professional Baseball, half have domes or retractable roofs.

So despite his dozen seasons in professional baseball, Senga has only infrequently pitched in the type of conditions that he faced Wednesday at Wrigley Field: Chilly, windy, the ballpark’s signature flags blustering from left to right throughout the evening. The long blue sleeves peeking out from underneath Senga’s road jersey could only block out so much of the weather.

Yet Senga wasn’t willing to blame any of that on his inefficient performance in a 4-2 loss to the Cubs. Instead, he said, the three runs and five walks he allowed over five innings were the result of poor command and an inability to get ahead in counts -- issues that, for whatever reason, have bedeviled him more on the road than at home.

“I can tell that things weren’t clicking the way I wanted them to,” Senga said through an interpreter. “Moving forward, I hope to click it in and be more efficient.”

Coming off his best start of the season, in which he struck out 12 batters and issued a season-low one walk against the Rays at Citi Field, Senga struggled with his control from the jump. He issued a free pass with one out in the first inning, then walked the leadoff men in the second, third and fourth. Along the way, Senga also allowed RBI hits to Dansby Swanson, Mike Tauchman and his countryman Seiya Suzuki, putting the Mets in a hole from which they never recovered.

Outside of rookie catcher , who hit a two-run homer through the teeth of the wind, the Mets mustered next to nothing against former teammate Marcus Stroman. The top seven batters in their lineup finished 1-for-23.

That was largely because of Stroman, who completed eight innings in only 88 pitches to be the antithesis of Senga in terms of efficiency.

“We didn’t have too much chase on the forkball,” Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said. “He had good stuff. It was interesting seeing that mix. He does some things in a unique way.”

Pitching deeper in the future will depend upon Senga’s ability to throw more strikes -- and particularly to throw them early in counts. When Senga takes the mound, he aims to give the Mets at least six innings regardless of how good or bad he may be feeling that day. Lasting five innings against the Cubs, he said, was the bare minimum of what he hoped to accomplish.

“If he can just tighten up on the walks…” Alvarez said through an interpreter, when asked about the experience of catching Senga.

“I’m hoping that happens when the weather warms up a little bit,” manager Buck Showalter said. “His stuff’s good enough to get deeper into games.”

Despite Senga’s brief outing, Showalter was mostly complimentary of his starter, lauding him in particular for his ability to pitch out of a two-on, no outs jam in the fourth. Much like Senga, Showalter dismissed the idea of weather being a factor, calling it a benefit to pitchers that the wind was blowing in so forcefully.

Showalter also struggled to posit why the pitcher’s home-road splits have been so extreme: A 1.57 ERA and 1.17 WHIP at Citi Field, versus a 6.12 ERA and 1.84 WHIP on the road. Given that Senga has made only nine career starts, with five of those coming on the road, those splits are likely more a product of small sample size than anything.

Each start, good or bad, is another data point for Senga. He has pitched in cold, windy conditions before, but only infrequently. He has thrown outdoors in the past, but not nearly as often as he will this season.

For now, the Mets are chalking it all up to continued learning experiences. No matter what conditions Senga faces going forward, the Mets are confident he will find ways to adapt to them.

“He’s been effective for us and given us a chance to win,” Showalter said. “Pitching five innings in the Major Leagues on the road, and keeping your team in a competitive situation, is what pitchers are supposed to do.”