Hours before Tuesday night’s showdown with the Atlanta Braves, few people outside the Mets organization knew who was going to make the start — with “TBA” being listed in the pitching probables. After learning journeyman Jerad Eickhoff, and not some last-minute acquisition, would take the mound, plenty of fans snarled with frustration.
That frustration only grew after Eickhoff was shellacked by the Braves’ offense for 10 runs, including three home runs, in just 3 2/3 innings pitched. With the clock ticking toward the July 30 trade deadline, some fans are wondering if Eickhoff was the best the front office can do to bolster the first-place team’s injury-plagued starting rotation.
Admittedly, that judgment isn’t very fair to both the front office and Eickhoff — who made no excuses for his performance in the post-game press conference.
“I just feel like I should be able to take what’s given, handle situations, handle circumstances and do it, and it takes time to be able to do those things. But again, given all of that, I’m still frustrated I let these guys down,” Eickhoff said. “It’s embarrassing, it’s frustrating, and regardless of the circumstances, I feel like I have the stuff and the ability to navigate that.”
When the Mets originally signed Eickhoff last December, he was viewed as a pitching depth acquisition who, in all likelihood, would hang around Triple-A Syracuse for much of the season and make the occasional spot start if a pitcher suddenly went down to injury.
No one could have foreseen the calamity that followed — Jacob deGrom’s arm troubles, David Peterson’s shoulder and foot injuries, Carlos Carrasco’s slower-than-expected recovery from a torn hamstring, Noah Syndergaard’s setback from Tommy John surgery.
As a result, Eickhoff became one of 16 different pitchers to start games for the Mets this season — and it’s almost miraculous that a team with so much upheaval in the rotation sat on Wednesday morning 3 1/2 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies atop the National League Eastern Division.
Credit goes to Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, who stepped up in a big way, and rookie Tylor Megill, who’s pitching like a seasoned veteran. Newly acquired Rich Hill threw five solid innings on Sunday, and figures to help stop the bleeding.
But Stroman can’t pitch every day; Walker’s struggled of late; Megill is a raw rookie who’ll likely have his rough moments; and Hill, at 41 years of age, likely can’t go as deep into games as he once did.
With deGrom going through several bouts of forearm tightness this year and Carrasco only making his debut in the week ahead, there remains a ton of uncertainty within the rotation. If the Mets are going to remain on top of the division, and potentially contend for a world championship, they’re going to have to do it without relying on journeymen like Eickhoff; they also need to shatter as much uncertainty about their rotation as possible.
That means acquiring a veteran, solid starting pitcher before the July 30 deadline — even if they acquire no one else.
The Mets have plenty of options. The Cubs have Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies. The Rangers have Kyle Gibson. The Twins have José Berrios. And the Nationals have Max Scherzer, though recent indications are a deal for him might be near impossible.
Acting general manager Zack Scott might be wise inquiring with the Rockies about Jon Gray or German Marquez; the Diamondbacks about Merrill Kelly; and the Orioles about John Means.
Outside of Scherzer, none of the names stand out as superstars, but all of them can provide some much-needed stability to the volatile Mets rotation. With a front office and an ownership determined to win and invest in a championship team, the time for them to strike is now — and it would be surprising if they don’t when the deadline expires.
One thing is clear: As admirable as Eickhoff was in handling Tuesday’s debacle against Atlanta, he’s just not a viable starting pitcher for a pennant contender.