Kodai Senga is already etching his name in places not many other Mets pitchers have gone before — which is quite a feat considering the franchise’s track record of churning out top-tier pitching talent over the last seven decades.
The 30-year-old right-hander was masterful yet again on Thursday evening at Citi Field, going six scoreless innings while allowing just two hits with 10 strikeouts, lowering his 2023 season ERA — his first-ever season in the majors after making the jump from Japan — to a tidy 2.95.
As it stands, only two other qualified pitchers in the National League have an ERA under 3.00: Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres (2.43) and Justin Steele of the Chicago Cubs (2.49).
Among rookie starting pitchers in all of baseball, he leads in WAR (4.1), ERA, and strikeouts (191). Not only is he on the verge of becoming the seventh pitcher in the majors this season to record 200 strikeouts, he also could become just the 14th pitcher post-deadball era (1920) to hit that benchmark of punchouts.
“He’s got to be thought about,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said of considering Senga for both the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. “He’s got to be somebody that’s in the discussion. He’s certainly been doing his part… He’s been this way from the get-go. He’s grounded and doesn’t take himself too seriously and he’s focused and very driven. He’s been a great addition. That’s a good signing by our guys.”
While Senga has an outside shot of winning the Cy Young given the seasons that Snell, Steele, and even Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen — who the Mets thumped on Wednesday night — are having, the Rookie of the Year race is shaping up to be a two-horse race between him and Diamondbacks youngster Corbin Carroll.
Senga modestly shrugged off the question about his candidacy, saying that he had “no idea,” where he would finish while stressing he just wants to finish the season healthy.
Yet the only other Met to be a finalist for both of these awards was Dwight Gooden in 1984, winning Rookie of the Year and finishing second in the Cy Young voting behind Rick Sutcliffe of the Chicago Cubs.
There will understandably be detractors that will point to Senga’s age and his decade-plus of pitching professionally in Japan as a reason why he should not be considered for Rookie of the Year honors. But it’s worth understanding just how much he’s had to adjust to on the fly, ranging from a larger ball that provides less grip, a different pitcher’s mound, the pitch clock, and an increasing workload while learning about an entirely new culture.
That’s far more than most rookie pitchers would ever have to contend with.