Tylor Megill still struggling to find command as Mets hold out hope for elusive step forward

Tylor Megill Mets
Tylor Megill. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

QUEENS — Tylor Megill had dodged enough traffic on Wednesday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirate to flirt with his longest start since June 16 when he went six innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Having allowed two runs on six hits with three walks over his first four innings, he retired Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds for two quick outs on eight pitches in the top of the fifth inning, bringing his pitch count up to 86 on the afternoon. One more quick out and he likely would have gotten the sixth to provide a bit of relief for an overworked bullpen that had pitched X innings over the previous X days. 

But Megill proceeded to walk Andrew McCutchen before allowing a ringing double down the right-field line to Jack Suwinski that nearly brought the Pirates back within one of what was a 4-2 game had it not been for a perfect relay put together by right fielder DJ Stewart, second baseman Jeff McNeil, and catcher Omar Narvaez.

“He had two outs with nobody on with a chance to pitch the sixth and he walked this that and whatever and took away that,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “There was an opportunity to pitch the sixth. That was disappointing.”

That’s as stern an admonishment as one can get from Showalter — the player’s manager that normally does all he can to keep the heat off his players. But that’s the way things have gone for Megill this season, who picked up his seventh win of the season despite the dismay of his manager. 

The 28-year-old right-hander had been forced to change his mechanics, ultimately decreasing his velocity, after dealing with biceps inflammation and a strained shoulder that derailed the 2022 season. He was 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA over his first six starts before the discomfort began.

Over his final nine outings of 2022, which included a demotion to the bullpen, he posted an 11.57 ERA — 18 runs in 14 innings pitched with 15 strikeouts and five walks. 

Tylor Megill Mets
New York Mets starting pitcher Tylor Megill (38) gets a new ball as Baltimore Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson, back, runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run off him in the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023, in Baltimore. Orioles’ Adley Rutschman scored on the home run. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Initially slated to begin this season in Triple-A, injuries to Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana forced Megill back up to the majors where another fast start was undone by further mechanical tweaks — this time after the organization found a way to tack on some of that velocity that had disappeared as a byproduct of last year’s injuries. He posted a 5.82 ERA from April 12-June 21 before getting sent down to Triple-A. He was called back up out of necessity at the start of the month after Verlander and Max Scherzer were traded away at the deadline. 

Things seemed to have gotten worse. After posting an 8.67 ERA in the minors, he allowed 10 earned runs in nine innings pitched against the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves before the high-traffic afternoon on Wednesday against Pittsburgh.

And it appears to be one glaring thing that’s keeping him from taking a clear step forward.

“It’s command,” Showalter said. “He’s made a couple of changes in his delivery which started because of the injury he had last year trying to take some strain off of that area with the way that his mechanics worked. Through that, he lost a little bit of his velocity… now they think they’ve found something that allows him to get that velocity back so we’re trying to get used to some deliveries and getting down the hill a little bit.”

Of the 95 pitches he threw on Wednesday, only 54 were strikes. Those four free passes issued ballooned his 2023 walk rate to 10.7%, which is in just the 18th percentile of all MLB pitchers and up more than 4% from last season. 

Megill’s strikeout rate, which is in the 12th percentile, has dropped in one year from 25.5% to 17.1%.

“It’s one thing to have better stuff,” Showalter began. “It’s another thing if you can command it because guys up here when they see you’re not commanding the baseball, they’re going to wait you out.”

That’s exactly what the opposition has done, slashing .298/.381/.460 (.841 OPS) against him in 2023. His expected batting average and expected on-base percentage are some of the worst in baseball, ranking in the fifth and sixth percentiles alike.

“It’s definitely been a struggle this year for me from the beginning,” Megill said. “Started just changing my mechanics thinking that was more so the main proponent to why it happened. In reality, it probably was my shoulder struggling. So I did that and the fastball wasn’t playing. It was way worse than it was. I went back to how I threw. obviously, it’s been just reps, reps, reps, reps, reps, and a lot of failures.”

Tylor Megill Mets
Tylor Megill (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Getting back to how he threw includes a similar overhand delivery but “with a little glove tap,” which helps focus on driving further toward home plate with fingers spread apart more to get an added boost on a fastball whose spin rate is in baseball’s 35th percentile. 

“It’s hard at times to be confident when all that’s gone down, especially the position that I’m at and whatnot,” Megill said. “But it’s just about showing up every day, getting the reps in, and trusting the process that it’s going to come back. It’s not the end. So far, I feel like every time I go out, it just seems to be getting better, getting better, getting better.”

Despite the struggles, the regression, and the 5.53 ERA this season, it’s still all there for Megill’s taking. The Mets’ starting rotation is in flux with just Kodai Senga, David Peterson, Jose Quintana, and Joey Lucchesi as the only other starting pitchers with MLB experience under team control next season.

“I want him to be more than depth,” Showalter said. “I want him to be one of the guys, I want him to graduate. We need him to graduate for a lot of reasons. [He] shows flashes of it and then — if you’re taking two steps forward, one step back, I’m OK with that. But we can’t quite get over that hump sometimes. [He and Peterson are] not 24, 25. They’re 27, 28… I want them to be a guy we can count on. I want them to use these starts to make us think he could be and should be.”

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