Before the Mets faced the Cardinals Monday night, much of the focus had shifted toward what pitcher Jacob deGrom would do at the plate. But by the end of the Mets' 6-2 loss to the Cardinals, the bigger concern was what he had done on the mound.
In an effort to jump-start the offense, manager Terry Collins batted deGrom eighth, the first time in franchise history that the pitcher did not hit last. But the experiment lasted just two times through the order before the Cardinals chased deGrom (0-4) with a four-run fifth inning.
"I didn't really make the pitches I needed to make when I had big situations," he said.
The lineup change was designed to give the heart of the order more chances to hit with runners on base. But the Mets saw poor results, thanks in part to David Wright, who stranded a pair of runners in the third. Wright, who says he's healthy, went 1-for-4, giving him three hits in his last 43 at-bats.
With ace Adam Wainwright nursing a balky elbow, the Cardinals handed spot-starting duty to fireballing reliever Carlos Martinez. But the Mets countered with one unearned run of support for deGrom, hardly enough to offer him cover.
DeGrom, 25, had been one of the few bright spots during what has been a tumultuous six weeks for the Mets. He had even excelled at the plate, part of the reason that Collins opted to move deGrom into the eighth spot, ahead of Eric Young Jr., who was fresh off the disabled list.
But with every outing, deGrom's effectiveness has waned. On Monday night he allowed six runs and 12 hits, both career highs, in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing. After pitching to a 2.42 ERA in his first four starts, he has a 7.80 ERA in his last three.
Collins had hoped for better when he adjusted his lineup to begin a seven-game road trip.
"He's going to keep running out there, so he's going to get better and better," Collins said.
On Sunday, Curtis Granderson was installed as the leadoff hitter and responded with a homer in his first at-bat. Collins insisted on leaving him in the top spot, meaning he had to find a spot for Young somewhere near the bottom of the order.
DeGrom, a former college shortstop, entered play hitting .455 (5-for-11) as a Met. The first time through the lineup, the change worked. Ruben Tejada led off the third with a walk and moved to second on deGrom's sacrifice bunt. With one out, Young extended the inning with an infield hit, and his speed forced a throwing error by shortstop Jhonny Peralta. That put runners on second and third.
Granderson tied the score at 1 with a sacrifice fly before Daniel Murphy walked, bringing up the slumping Wright. Though he struck out, the situation set up as envisioned, with Young acting as a table-setter ahead of Granderson, Murphy and Wright. Each batted with runners on base.
But the second time around, the Mets were forced to send deGrom to the plate with the bases loaded. DeGrom hacked at the first pitch he saw, only to watch second baseman Kolton Wong make a leaping grab of his line drive. Young then struck out.
Said Collins, "We scored a run, hit a line drive at the second baseman. Otherwise we would have scored two more.''
DeGrom didn't survive long enough for a third time through the order. After a strikeout to begin the fifth, the Cardinals got a double, single, double, triple and walk before Peralta's RBI single put the Mets in a 6-1 hole.