Man, it must have stung Terry Collins and the rest of the Mets’ brass to implement a plan that calls for Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom to make four fewer starts. Four fewer Harvey Days? Ouch.
But while the Mets’ six-man rotation, which starts next week when Dillon Gee joins in, might be tough to stomach in the short-term — did we mention four fewer Harvey Days? — it’s the right move for the Mets as they go for twin goals of contending and protecting valuable assets.
We have no way of knowing if the Mets will make the playoffs or even be in position to do so in a few months. But at least if they do play well enough to contend, their best pitchers will be on the mound at the end, trying to cement a playoff spot or win an October game, and that might mean more than the roster concerns of a short bench or bullpen.
The Mets chose this particular route to tamp down innings because it kept everyone pitching, making normal starts, just with extra rest in between. There won’t be any shutdowns, a la Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals in 2012, so maybe there won’t be any Strasburgian regret, either. No one will have to come out of a start after five dominant innings, either. Yeah, you tell Harvey or deGrom that they can’t go after a perfect game.
“We have to watch the workload of basically three young pitchers,” Collins said Saturday before the Mets lost, 9-5, to the Marlins at Citi Field. He was talking about Harvey, deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
“They’re on somewhat of an innings limit through the season,” Collins added. “At the particular rate they’re going right now, every one of them, they would supersede that limit quite a bit. We needed to cut their starts back. The only way we thought we could do it without shutting them down for some time was to add a sixth starter. It takes basically four starts away from them.
“When we sat and talked with each guy or as a group, the one thing they didn’t want was to get shut down. They wanted to make sure they were pitching in September and they didn’t want to come out after five innings. So this is how we’re going to look at it right now.
“If it doesn’t look like it’s going to fly, we’re going to change it.”
Of course, who knows how the travails of Jon Niese could alter the six-man rotation itself. Niese was awful again Saturday, allowing five runs (four earned) and seven hits in four innings and has a 9.00 ERA over his last four starts. “I’m concerned,” Collins said. “I have yet to see him, in my time here, where he makes the number of mistakes he’s made.”
If that keeps up, Niese could pitch himself out of a starting gig. But the Mets wouldn’t have to give up the six-man rotation if that happened because they could bring up Steven Matz, their best prospect.
Even in what some say is a golden era of pitching, the Mets are uniquely positioned to try something like the six-man. And with pitching being a war of attrition — sometimes it seems as if the elbows and shoulders of the men who practice the craft are held together with gossamer — maybe it makes sense.
The Mets will do all they can to protect young arms like Noah Syndergaard’s.
There are no guarantees of pitcher health, of course. There never are. But teams are routinely using more than five starters. This season, 214 pitchers had started a game entering play Saturday, an average of 7.13 per team. The Mets have already used seven different starters before even implementing this plan.
Does using a lot of starters mean you won’t have a good team? Well, every World Series winner since 2006 has used at least seven. The 2013 Red Sox used 11 different starters.
One of the big criticisms, even from the pitchers themselves, is that it will change their precious routines. But overcoming obstacles is a big part of succeeding as a pro athlete. They can find a new routine and make it work.
Harvey has already started coping. If the rest of the Met starters aren’t already taking their cue from him — they should be, by the way, on just about everything — now’s the time.
“It’s something we’re all going to have to manage,” Harvey said after his start Friday night. “We have to do what it takes to stay sharp.
“We can’t let a six-man rotation or extra rest get in the way of performing.”
Harvey even has better numbers on more rest — his career ERA is 3.27 on four days’ rest, 1.80 on more. Of course, he’s made only 46 big-league starts, so it’s all a small sample.
The primary goal is contending while protecting. “We’re trying to keep these guys as fresh as we can to avoid injury,” Collins said.
“We’ve got good young pitching, but I’m not sure anybody can handle losing your No. 1 or No. 2 starter all season.”
But maybe for only four starts each, as part of a larger plan, it can work.
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