PHOENIX — Mets manager Buck Showalter emerged from the first-base dugout and signaled down to the bullpen. There were no outs in the third inning, and his team trailed by three runs.
New York’s rotation has been so effective through the first two-plus weeks of the season — despite some wrenches thrown in the club’s original plans — that it felt a bit unusual to see this situation Saturday night at Chase Field. Typically, if Showalter has pulled a starter this early, it’s been solely because of pitch counts and hurlers not being completely stretched out due to a shortened Spring Training.
At the same time, it wasn’t too surprising. Because of a doubleheader against the Giants on Tuesday, the Mets had an unexpected hole to fill in their rotation this time through. So they turned to right-hander Trevor Williams, who gave up four earned runs on seven hits over two-plus innings of a 5-2 loss to the D-backs.
Showalter knew he would need more than five starting pitchers to navigate a 162-game season — that’s baseball. But even with Jacob deGrom (stress reaction in right scapula) and Taijuan Walker (right shoulder bursitis) on the injured list, New York has found ways to keep its rotation strong.
And eventually, the Mets’ starters may even fall into a predictable order, if all goes well.
“I’m hoping we settle in. Sometimes you have a year where it never really settles in,” Showalter said. “Didn’t know that Taijuan was going to have an issue, and Jake, but they did, and what are you going to do? Other teams don’t care, and they’re happy you’ve got problems.”
Tylor Megill (2.20 ERA in three starts) and David Peterson (0.64 ERA over two starts and one relief appearances) are big reasons why New York’s rotation has excelled early. Even after Williams’ short outing, Mets starters rank first in MLB in WHIP (0.89) and strikeouts (89) and second in ERA (2.44) and innings pitched (84 2/3).
It’s not easy to go back and forth between starting and relieving like Williams has done since coming to New York last July. But he’s embracing the swingman role.
“It’s something that I knew coming into this year was going to be a challenge, and I’ve accepted that,” Williams said. “It’s been fun being locked in every night as a reliever and learning a different side of pitching that I’m not necessarily used to. But in terms of my preparation and physically, I felt good to go.”
The results may not have been great for Williams on Saturday, but six of the seven hits he allowed were only singles. He also prevented Arizona’s two-run second from escalating by getting David Peralta to fly out and strand runners on the corners.
If Showalter needs to call on Williams to start again, the skipper feels confident in doing so.
“Any time it’s a little different environment than you’re used to — it’s been a while since he started a game — that’s part of the challenge,” Showalter said. “Next time we have to do it, he’ll be up to it.”
In an ideal world, the Mets won’t have to do it that often and can allow Williams to work out of the bullpen because of how strong their rotation is and can be. Walker is nearing a return and could start a game for New York next weekend, and whenever deGrom is ready — whether that’s in a month, or more — he’ll take the staff to another level.
As for the next time the Mets have to navigate around a doubleheader on their schedule? There’s a good chance that will be May 3, when they have a scheduled twin bill against the Braves. And New York already has a tentative plan in place, as lefty David Peterson (who was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday) is expected to come back to the big leagues to start one of those games.
“I’m here to do what is asked of me,” said Peterson, who was sent down so the Mets could get an extra relief arm for Saturday’s game.
So far, New York has done an exceptional job at navigating its rotation obstacles. While it didn’t lead to a win Saturday, it has set up its starting-pitching depth to be one of its biggest strengths throughout 2022.
“It’s impressive, especially when at the beginning of a season we lose a guy like Jake deGrom and to see the guys step up like they have, it goes back to what we do as a team, it’s next man up,” catcher James McCann said.