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Mets need scuffling deGrom to find quick fix

With playoff rotation questions looming, righty to be relied upon heavily

NEW YORK -- Only the most superstitious of Mets fans would hesitate to say that the National League East race, for all intents and purposes, is over. The Mets have moved on to evaluation mode, with a side mission of nabbing home-field advantage for the NL Division Series. Even manager Terry Collins hinted at that much before the Mets snapped their eight-game winning streak Tuesday with a 9-3 loss to the Marlins, saying he'd prefer not to face "those animals" -- meaning Dodgers starters Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke -- in "the shadows" -- meaning Los Angeles.

But important matters remain on the table with 17 games to play. Topping the agenda is the business of who will be in the playoff rotation, and whether that group will prove strong enough to go animal hunting.

In the past, any discussion of the Mets' rotation began with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom; if those two were healthy, the Mets would have a chance. But Harvey's travails are by now well-documented, despite Collins' assertion Tuesday that come October, when Harvey starts, he will pitch as deep into games as needed.

The same is true for deGrom, who is under no innings restrictions. But his current problem may be just as sinister: In allowing six runs over five innings to the Marlins, deGrom bloated his ERA to 6.41 over his past five starts. He's still striking out batters with aplomb, including five Tuesday. But deGrom's location has been spotty, with balls uncharacteristically leaking over the middle of the plate.

"There were some pretty good swings, which indicate to me there were balls that were not in the right place," Collins said. "He's pretty frustrated right now."

It's certainly not panic time for deGrom, who was in the Cy Young Award conversation as recently as three weeks ago and who, after the Mets skip him in the rotation or at least push back one of his starts later this month, has plenty of calendar left to round into form. Collins intimated that a skipped start could come soon, though deGrom insisted he doesn't need rest -- just work.

However the Mets play it, improvement is critical because with Harvey's status uncertain, it's obvious whom they are relying on as their top starter. Add in the fact that Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are both untested as rookies, the former struggling throughout August and the latter possibly ticketed for the bullpen, and deGrom's abilities will loom even larger come October.

In the past, he has proven adept at quickly making the fixes he needs to thrive, often emerging a better pitcher than he was before descending into a rough patch.

The stakes for that have never been higher than they are right now.

"I've had bad starts before," deGrom said. "It's about how you react after them, so I'd like to get back out there."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.
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