Jakob deGrom creates promise for Mets in season debut with 1-2 blowout

go through Disha Sosa
Fox Sports MLB Writer

WASHINGTON — About 24 hours before his season debut, Jacob DeGrom Appears restless within the confines of the visitor’s club national garden.

He walks from room to room, then stands in front of the locker, looks around, seems a little fidgety, then picks up his gloves from his chair and starts again.

It’s a tense energy that stands out especially as his other Mets teammates are relaxed, sitting in front of lockers, poring over pre-reports or eating in the dining area. The difference is significant. That was just another day for another Mets game. For deGrom, it was the eve of his first ascent of the mound in 391 days. He’s expected to be nervous, and those feelings seem to come the day before the big event we’ve been waiting for.

Then it’s time. DeGrom stepped out of the dugout to rapturous applause and picked up where he left off more than a year ago. His first pitch since July 7, 2021 was a 99-mph fastball to Victor Robles, which resulted in a strike. His third race of the night was a 102-mph heater. Soon after, he struck out Robles on six pitches.

The tension of the previous day didn’t show on the mound. He struck out six batters, gave up three hits and, yes, proved he’s human, with 59 pitches and five innings in the Mets’ 5-1 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night. One run is allowed during the competition.

“That’s what I expect from him,” Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “He’s arguably the greatest pitcher of our generation.”

That’s the deGrom the Mets know and expect when the Mets replenished baseball’s best pitcher with the three-time Cy Young winner last November. When the Mets shocked the baseball world and signed Max Scherzer to a record three-year, $130 million contract, they had a vision. No one articulates this vision better than their billionaire team owners.

“Now we can pair Max with another great generation pitcher, Jacob deGrom,” Steve Cohen said in a Dec. 1 news conference. “I told you last year that I wanted to win, I talked about winning consistently and winning titles, and I meant it.”

Mets’ Jacob DeGrom throws six strikeouts against Nationals

Mets' Jacob DeGrom throws six strikeouts against Nationals

The New York Mets’ Jacob DeGrom had six strikeouts, including a 102-mph fastball against the Washington Nationals.

For a while, that vision started to look like a fantasy. DeGrom and Scherzer showcased the talent of this generation in spring training, pitching back-to-backs in the Grapefruit League games in March, which only further heightened expectations for the damage they collectively inflicted in the Mets’ rotation. But it’s short lived.

DeGrom collapsed in late March with a stress response to his right shoulder blade. He was banned from throwing for four weeks. In a sensible rehab, it’s clear that deGrom won’t return until the Mets enter the second half of the season.

Nine months after the Mets signed Scherzer — and announced they would win the World Series at some point in the next three years — the organization’s vision became a reality. Their 1-2 punches against Scherzer and deGrom came four months after they planned, but it finally came to fruition and brought hope. Now, it will be up to the co-op ace to prove if they’re worth the wait.

“I feel good,” DeGrom said after his season debut. “Go out, pitch and stay healthy, and that’s the payoff.”

With deGrom missing 102 games, Scherzer stuck to his deal in his first year in Queens. Including his Monday game against the Nationals, where he struck out five times and won his seventh win of the year, Scherzer has a 2.13 ERA and 0.925 WHIP in 14 starts this season. The Mets overcame Scherzer’s seven-week absence with a diagonal strain and maintained their lead in the east of the Netherlands.

The team’s ability to fend off a surging Atlanta Braves — at a time when Scherzer and deGrom were on hold — was a tough endeavor that gave them their first chance at the playoffs in five years. But from now on, the Mets’ possibility of a long playoff run depends on the health of DeGrom and Scherzer.

“It’s amazing to have these two guys on the same side,” Pete Alonso said of DeGrom and Scherzer. “I’m excited for what these guys can do in the upcoming games.”

There are still many unknowns. The Mets can’t immediately commit to deGrom’s return to a normal five-day schedule following Tuesday’s successful season debut. DeGrom said he thinks it’s good enough to do so, and if he does, he’ll be lining up for Sunday’s crucial four-game series finale against the Warriors at Citi Field between their division rivals.

Then there’s the issue of his arm strength, and whether it can handle the increased workload between now and the Mets hope it gets to October. There’s also the question of whether his high speed — 16 of DeGrom’s first 22 pitches Tuesday were triple figures — will lead to another injury.

DeGrom has repeatedly said he will opt out of his contract and become a free agent this offseason. While it’s easy to see Cohen open a blank check and give DeGrom whatever he wants, a lot has to happen between now and then. For these 2022 Mets, winning the NL pennant and then the championship is all that matters, and it’s hard to imagine doing that without their homegrown ace.

For now, the Mets will try to enjoy the ride while holding their breath, believing that deGrom’s shoulder twitching or a slight wince is a regular response rather than a signal of something bigger or worse. For now, the 1-2 punch the Mets signed and coveted is finally here. It’s something to be enchanted with.

“Obviously, a really good pitcher is back there,” Buck Showalter said. “The challenge now is to keep him out. It’s hard to do. You generate that kind of arm speed, and some guys do it better than others. There are things you have to stay ahead of.”

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for three and a half seasons for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Disha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. She never misses Rafael Nadal no matter what country or time zone he plays (sleep can always be sacrificed for sport). Follow her on Twitter @Disa Tosa.

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