10:20 am Aug. 22, 2012
The New York Mets didn't officially say so on Tuesday, but they certainly appear to need a new starting pitcher on Thursday.
S.N.Y. still listed Johan Santana as the "probable" for Thursday afternoon, but the team, after saying it would have the results of an M.R.I. taken of Santana's back following an ill-advised bullpen session, sent out Terry Collins following an ugly 6-2 loss to explain that the doctor hadn't read the M.R.I. yet.
So while it is possible that the doctor will come in on Wednesday morning and discover that Santana's back is all better, along with his ankle and his shoulder, it is also likely that the Mets will find some way to announce that Santana, at the very least, won't make his scheduled start Thursday, and probably will be shut down for the year. (Smart money had them shutting Santana down days ago.)
So who would make the next start?
Right now, it looks like Collin McHugh, the minor league pitcher and accomplished blogger. That's not the worst thing for the Mets; in fact, it provides a useful window into the team's 2013 pitching depth.
Consider that McHugh, 25, has very little left to prove at the minor league level. After posting a 2.41 E.R.A. at Double-A Binghamton this season in half a year, he's been effective in nearly as many innings at Triple-A Buffalo. As Toby Hyde points out, McHugh has improved each month he's pitched at Triple-A, too.
Interestingly, his E.R.A. is a bit lower than Matt Harvey's was at Buffalo, 3.39 to Harvey's 3.68, and his peripheral stats were virtually identical, with a slightly lower strikeout rate, 8.7 to Harvey's 9.2, and a lower walk rate, 3.5 to Harvey's 3.9.
How he got there was very different. He throws five pitches, but unlike Harvey, his fastball is right around league average. It is control of the five pitches that makes him useful, rather than a huge difference in velocity between them. In fact, McHugh is commonly compared to another intelligent Mets pitcher who gets by on average stuff, Dillon Gee.
It is a bit too optimistic to assume McHugh can replicate Gee's 2012 success, however. Gee routinely put up walk rates of less than three per nine in the minor leagues, and still took two years in the major leagues before he got his M.L.B. walk rate under four per nine. So assuming McHugh will come in and replicate Gee immediately is asking too much, probably, and there is the distinct possibility that McHugh won't make the leap forward Gee did in 2012 at all.
Still, McHugh represents one of the pitchers in the organization most likely to do so, and finding out some information now about how ready he is can only help the Mets.
After all, the rotation prospects for 2013 are R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese, who are pitching well, along with a host of questions. Santana hasn't been healthy or effective since June. There's Gee, who missed the second half of the 2012 season with a blood clot in his shoulder, making both recovery and avoiding recurrence potentially problematic. There's Matt Harvey, who has been very good in his 30 innings, but has pitched, after all, 30 innings. And there's Zack Wheeler, who has just three starts at Triple-A on his resume.
Even with a rotation filled with surer bets, pitching depth is vital. See the 2012 Yankees, or virtually every other major league team ever, for examples of starting pitchers getting hurt. A young, team-controlled option like McHugh succeeding is exactly what the 2013 Mets need to maximize whatever they're going to get from the rest of their roster.
So McHugh on Thursday is best for the Mets in 2013. And shutting Santana down is best for the Mets in 2013. That was true on Monday, too. Maybe, at last, they've been forced into the plan they should have been following all along.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Ivan Nova pitched through another worrisome start, which included a grand slam by Kevin Youkilis, in a White Sox 7-3 win.
The Yankees did receive good news on both Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia, however.
David Wilson is nervous ahead of his first start.
Wayne Hunter was excused from practice.