ARLINGTON -- Now that was the $185 million ace the Rangers were expecting.
After an uncharacteristically shaky Opening Day in which Jacob deGrom exited the game after just 3 2/3 innings with the Rangers trailing 5-0, the ace returned to form in the series finale against the Orioles. Looking like himself for the first time this season, deGrom allowed just one earned run over six innings while striking out 11 as Texas grinded out a 5-2 victory over Baltimore.
“He was great, wasn’t he?” manager Bruce Bochy said with a smile. “It was great to get him a win, too. That was Jacob, just really on top of his game. They worked him pretty hard in the fifth inning, but he bounced back in the sixth. I was looking forward to seeing him back out there just like all of us, but that's him. He has good command, great stuff and it was just a great effort by him.”
deGrom said he was eager to get back out on the mound after he struggled on Opening Day. He doesn’t often have back-to-back poor starts, and he ensured that trend would continue, despite a few mistakes throughout the game.
The right-hander took a perfect game into the fifth inning, but Ryan Mountcastle led off with a double to the left-center-field gap. After allowing two hits, one walk, an error on Marcus Semien and two runs (one earned) in the fifth inning, he concluded his outing with two swinging strikeouts in the sixth, with catcher Jonah Heim completing the strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play to catch Adley Rutschman stealing after he drew a leadoff walk.
“I wanted to be back out there, and I’m pleased with the performance,” deGrom said postgame. “I'm pretty hard on myself, and there's room for improvement, but I’m pleased with how I threw the ball. There were some big spots where I got to make pitches, and there were a couple that I left over the plate and gave up a couple of hits there, and I need to be better than that.”
It’s hard to be much better than he was, though.
deGrom struck out the side in the second and fourth innings, inducing 25 swings and misses. The fastball had life, sitting 97-100 mph the entire time, and the slider was nearly untouchable throughout, baffling Orioles hitters up and down the lineup.
“I feel like he could have thrown any pitch at any time and got a swing and a miss,” Semien said. “He had everything working. Third time through the lineup, they made a little bit of adjustments, and that's natural in this league, but he still did what he had to do. Just playing behind him, it's fun. It was good to have him in that third game [of the series] when we've already lost two and he could shut them down.”
“He's locked in from pitch one,” Heim added. “You see this stuff, I kind of lose words trying to talk about it, because it's so special. He has his strengths and we're gonna push through that. We're gonna make the other team hit his strengths, and his strengths are pretty good. So I think we're going to take that nine times out of 10.”
deGrom prides himself on being the guy to right the ship when necessary. Despite not being as sharp as he would’ve liked on Opening Day, he returned to form at the right time, right after Texas dropped the first two games of the series against Baltimore.
And unlike Opening Day, when the offense stepped up in a big way as deGrom struggled, the ace kept the Rangers in a tightly contested game against the Orioles as the offense regained its footing after scoring two runs total in the first two games of the series.
“I've said before, but every time I take the ball, the goal is to put up zeros and give us a chance to win,” deGrom said. “It puts a little more pressure on you after dropping two games right away [against Baltimore] but you want to go out there and be the guy who stops that and gets us back in the win column. You take pride in that, and you go out there and really try to focus in and do your job.”