Jacob deGrom is pointed for the Mets in return from injury

WASHINGTON — The buzz and roar of baseball’s annual trading deadline captured most of the attention around the sport on Tuesday, and rightly so. Many players changed teams in a matter of hours, including Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals’ devastating hitter, considered by some to be the game’s best player.

The Nationals sent Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres for a host of prized prospects in the marquee trade of the dayand many more lesser offers were also recorded. The Mets made a few trades, but only to improve the team around the edges.

They didn’t do anything spectacular except welcome back a generational pitcher.

Jacob deGrom, the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, returned to the mound Tuesday night after more than a year lost to injury, and he looked almost as dominant as ever. He fired the radar gun, fooled hitters with his off-speed pitches and, best of all, reported no pain, discomfort or ominous ticks.

“Being there, being healthy and feeling good, it was definitely a good step,” he said.

DeGrom, who had been out since spring training with a stress reaction injury to his right shoulder blade, pitched five innings of overpowered baseball and allowed one run and three hits while striking out six with only the slightest suspicion. of rust. It was his first outing since July 7, 2021, when a forearm injury cost him the second half of a season that had the potential to be his best yet.

Showcasing his signature fastball and combining it with nifty off-speed pitches, deGrom hit 100 miles per hour 13 times among his 59 pitches on Tuesday, including one that hit 101.6 mph off Victor Robles, Washington’s leadoff hitter in the game. .

The Nationals, with a depleted roster, looked overwhelmed and bewildered. When deGrom hit veteran slugger Nelson Cruz with a 93 mph slider in the second inning, Cruz returned to the bench shaking his head.

“Now the challenge is to keep it there,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s hard to do. We’ll see where he is in four days, hopefully.”

Playing it safe due to deGrom’s injury history, the Mets retired the 34-year-old after the fifth inning. The plan before the game was to keep it at 70-75 pitches or five innings, whichever came first, and his effectiveness against an overmatched roster determined that would be the inning limit.

The Nationals capitalized on deGrom’s departure with back-to-back homers from Luis Garcia and Yadiel Hernandez against relief pitcher Stephen Nogosek in the sixth. Washington then held on for a 5-1 win.

But that was the little picture thing. The most significant development was that deGrom looked strong and nearly untouchable – in other words, like him – and fans and teammates can now envision a clearer picture of an enticing playoff pitching rotation for the first-place Mets, with deGrom and Max Scherzer leading this one.

“That could potentially be really huge for us,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said. “I’m really excited to see what can happen in the aftermath. I just hope they can both stay healthy for us and keep presenting like they do.

Although the Mets didn’t make a high-profile trade, they added four new players in the past few days. They added depth to the roster with designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, outfielder Tyler Naquin and all-rounder Darin Ruf. And they bolstered their bullpen with Mychal Givens, a relief pitcher who was with the Baltimore Orioles from 2015 to 2018 when Showalter was their manager.

(Showalter said Givens went from shortstop to pitcher when he was in the minor leagues, a path deGrom also took to get to the mound years earlier.)

None of the players acquired by the Mets are catchers and Givens is right-handed, so many Mets fans who were hoping for those two holes in the roster may be disappointed. Mets general manager Billy Eppler said he was chasing those kinds of players (hitting hints that Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras might have been a target) but ultimately decided not to part with any of “our 19 best hopes”. “

Fans might take umbrage with this cautious approach, but just 24 minutes after Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline expired, Mets fans who made the trip to Nationals Park to see their team were appeased by the view of deGrom deliberately walking to the bullpen for hot pregame -Oops.

A few dozen stood and cheered, but by the time deGrom headed to the mound for his first inning, there were thousands of other Mets fans in the stadium and they gave their standing ovation another launcher hero.

“Being on the road and having Mets fans supporting me like that was a really cool thing,” he said.

The day did not end with deGrom’s victory. But Francisco Lindor homered to the top of the sixth on the night of the score, 1-1, so deGrom was not blamed for the loss, a fate that had been all too familiar to the slender right-hander during his years with the Mets, when marvelous performances were marred by poor offensive support or a faulty relief pitch. In his final four seasons, deGrom’s ERA was a remarkable 1.94, but his win-loss record was just 32-21.

The Mets are hoping that with a better team behind him and with a closer Edwin Díaz, who has been terrific this year, many of those unfortunate losses will turn into wins, especially in the playoffs. Then come other unknowns. DeGrom said he plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season.

But for now, and the rest of the year, the Mets will be happy to consider him a great addition, who returned on trade deadline day.