Mets rookie Jacob deGrom became the first pitcher in club history to begin his career without a win in his first seven starts. But all the numbers beyond the win column suggested a bright future for a player with a distinctive long-haired mane and sunny disposition.
"I know his record doesn't show it, but he's pitched pretty good," Mets manager Terry Collins said before sending deGrom out against the NL East-leading Braves on Tuesday night at Citi Field. "As he goes down the road, these are big games for us, and he knows it. That's the only way he's going to improve."
DeGrom (2-5) made a quantum leap forward, putting it all together with seven scoreless innings, tying his career high with 11 strikeouts and walking none for the first time in the Mets' 8-3 victory before a crowd of 20,671. The rookie joined Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden as the only Mets pitchers to strike out 11 twice in their first 11 major-league starts.
In a text to Newsday, Gooden said deGrom "has great mound presence."
Told after the game about the company he's keeping in Mets history, deGrom beamed and said: "That's a cool category. It's an honor."
It was the ninth time in 11 starts that deGrom gave up three earned runs or fewer, and he has gone 382/3 innings without allowing a home run. Reliever Buddy Carlyle was charged with the Braves' run in the eighth, and Dana Eveland was charged with two more in the ninth with Jeurys Familia getting the final two outs.
The Mets had a season-high 18 hits, their most ever at Citi Field, for the 4,000th victory in franchise history. It started with a leadoff home run from Curtis Granderson, his 14th and second in two games. Collins said moving Granderson from the cleanup spot to the leadoff role helped him.
"We did some research, and the majority of his at-bats in the big leagues have been in the leadoff spot," Collins said. "Maybe that's made him comfortable. It's working, and I'm going to leave it alone."
Good idea. Facing Atlanta starter Julio Teheran (8-6), an NL All-Star, Granderson hit the second pitch, a 90-mph fastball, off the second-deck facing in rightfield for a 1-0 lead.
DeGrom, who again was placed eighth in the order by Collins, singled in the second inning and moved to second base on a two-out, broken-bat single by Granderson. Daniel Murphy crushed a two-run double into the gap in left-center, and David Wright's single scored Murphy for a 4-0 lead.
The Mets' assault on Teheran continued in the third when Travis d'Arnaud and Ruben Tejada singled. D'Arnaud advanced to third when deGrom hit into a double play and scored the Mets' fifth run on a single by Eric Young.
From there, it was deGrom's game to lose, but he confounded the Braves with fastball movement and his command.
"I had control of all my pitches in the bullpen before the game," deGrom said. "I felt good throwing . Travis called it a lot and put the target up there."
Asked how he maintained his composure as losses mounted, even as he pitched well, deGrom said, "I just tried to keep putting up zeros, tried to keep us in every game and not worry about that stuff too much."
With Jim Baumbach