June 19, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Justin Verlander makes his Mets debut

Justin Verlander makes his Mets debut

DETROIT – Over the winter, the Mets signed Justin Verlander to maintain what they considered to be one of baseball’s best rotations. With Jacob DeGrom going to Texas, the Mets have focused on Verlander as the pitcher who can best round out DeGrom’s production—a task that began late Thursday afternoon, when Verlander emerged with an effective five innings against the Tigers.

What the Mets don’t like is the idea that even a vintage Verlander might not be enough to stabilize their disjointed season. Despite only allowing two runs in his debut, Verlander lost 2-0 to the Tigers. Over the last 22 innings sweep of three games at Comerica Park, the Mets batted 0.11 and scored one run. They’ve lost nine of their last 11 games and hold a 16-16 record, falling back to . 500 for the first time since going 6-6.

“We just need to find who we are,” said Verlander. “This series was tough.”

In Verlander, at least, the Mets have some real, tangible hope for the future. For a brief period in the beginning of the game, it looked as if Verlander would not be able to wake the team from its recent terrible nightmare, as he allowed back-to-back home runs to Riley Green and Javier Baez. Less than 24 hours after Max Scherzer’s rocky comeback from a 10-game suspension, the performance gave credence to the notion that the Mets are having a serious problem with their turnover.

But then Verlander settled into a groove and explained why, even at 40, he’s still one of the game’s most dangerous shooters. After allowing those fellows, Verlander allowed only three more hits, improving his drive and speed in the middle innings. In a strict outfield count of about 90, Verlander averaged 95 mph on his fastball and topped out at 96.6, a few ticks above where he sat during his last start in spring training. He hit five and walked one in the place he called home runs from 2005–17, and kept two of his three fastest pitches for his final batter in the fifth.

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“We put a lot of pressure on Verlander early on, which caused him to ask for it a little bit in the middle of the outing,” said Tigers manager AJ Hinch. “We knew getting out of rehab would be short. But the series sweeps a very good team and they play as clean as we did, that’s the most important thing.”

For the Mets, it’s a shame they hope they can’t continue now that their rotation is full again. Verlander, who was signed by the Mets to a two-year, $86.6 million contract to pair with Scherzer at the helm of their rotation, alerted the team on Opening Day eve that he was experiencing muscle discomfort near his right armpit. A subsequent MRI revealed a large strain of rotator cuff, which was initially only supposed to cost Verlander a few starts. But the injury was slow to heal and the Mets cautiously proceeded with the 40-year-old, keeping him sidelined for five weeks.

When healthy, Verlander was routinely dominant throughout his 30s, winning his third career Cy Young Award last year at age 39. He and Scherzer became the third duo of three-time Cy Young winners to race for the same team in the same year, joining Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw (2021 Dodgers) and Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver (1986 White Sox) – although Carlton and Seaver were not on Chicago’s roster at the same time.

“We feel good about that,” said outfielder Brandon Nimmo. “We’re just happy that they’re healthy and that they’re going in the right direction.”

The hope is that a baseball win will follow, and that the Mets won’t push too hard while waiting for that to happen. To wit: In the closing moments of the sweep, Nemo singled with one out and attempted to steal second base. Although he understood the danger from tying at the plate, Nemo cited Alex Lang’s slow delivery as reason to believe he could successfully pass the bag “10 out of 10 times”.

“It’s like a 30-foot jump shot, right?” said Showalter after Nemo was fired. “It’s a byproduct of our trying to push something that doesn’t exist.”

Moments after that play, the game was over – with an “L” next to Verlander’s name in the box, and some noticeable frustration from those who couldn’t stop him.