MILWAUKEE — Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard were supposed to bring a 1-2 punch — at least for the second half of this season — that would spearhead an experienced and talented rotation that could carry the Mets deep into October.
Instead the Mets are left with a disturbing statistic that has helped define this season in ruin: zero pitches thrown in the major leagues between the two right-handers since the All-Star break.
That could change this week, with both pitchers possibly making cameos for the Mets, but too little too late for a team headed home for the winter.
DeGrom, who last pitched on July 7, has progressed to throwing side sessions over the last week and will face hitters in live batting practice before potentially returning to the roster for an abbreviated outing that would attempt to serve the purpose of quelling concerns about his right elbow heading to the offseason.
Syndergaard, who is approaching the two-year anniversary of his last major league appearance, on Sept. 29, 2019, threw one scoreless inning for Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday and could be rejoining the Mets this week as an opener or reliever, his rehab from Tommy John surgery finally complete.
Neither fireballer will help the Mets this season, but there is 2022 to consider. DeGrom will be entering the opt-out year of his contract, and Syndergaard is a free agent whose potential can’t be overlooked when formulating a rotation plan.
“[DeGrom] is the best pitcher of our generation, so my expectation for him is to go out and make 32 to 34 starts or however it works out and be his dominant self,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said.
In 15 starts this season, the two-time Cy Young award winner has pitched to a 1.08 ERA and 0.554 WHIP. But it’s also a season in which deGrom’s physical ailments became a storyline even before his placement on the injured list immediately following the All-Star break.
Syndergaard was initially expected back by mid-June, but that time table changed weeks ahead of his projected return because of elbow discomfort. His rehab in late-August was delayed when he tested positive for COVID-19. The Mets will have to decide whether to extend Syndergaard a qualifying offer (a potentially costly option, at around $20 million for one season) or try to sign him for less.
“He loves New York,” Hefner said. “This is where he grew up. Obviously he was in Toronto, but he’s pitched for this organization for six years. He loves the city, he loves the Mets. I really enjoy working with him.”
The third piece of that equation is Marcus Stroman, an impending free agent, who became more important to the Mets with deGrom and Syndergaard sidelined. Stroman has pitched to a 3.00 ERA this season over 174 innings.
“He’s a tough guy to replace, what he can do with the ball, the energy he brings to our group,” Hefner said. “If we choose to go a different route, those are all things we have to consider and replace.”
Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker are the veteran starting pitchers under contract for next season, and the Mets have potential depth pieces in Tylor Megill and David Peterson. The free-agent market this offseason will include names such as Robbie Ray, Max Scherzer and Kevin Gausman.
“The potential to have five veteran, quality, upper-echelon starters and I don’t know what we’re going to do in free agency and all that stuff will shake itself out,” Hefner said. “But there is that potential with Noah and Stro and Jake and Cookie, and then you put Petey and Tylor and those types of guys back in the mix, our depth really shows itself again and that is the thing I am most excited about.
“With Steve [Cohen, owner] now and the ability to go out and get guys, whether it be Stro or Noah or however we decide to go about it, there is the opportunity to add, which is also exciting.”
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