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When It All Goes Wrong

What’s wrong with Jacob deGrom [1]?

That’s the question we’d all like answered, starting with “my God, just tell me it isn’t the elbow.” And we had a lot of time to ponder that question Friday night, as the Mets finally kicked off a chilly, rainy game against the Brewers nearly three hours late and were then out of it early. A blowup inning for deGrom, followed by a blowup inning for Corey Oswalt [2], and there wasn’t much to do after that [3] except shake our heads at the 100 or so diehards out there in the cold and worry about our ace.

So is it the elbow? Or some other critical part connected to a critical part? DeGrom sounded pretty adamant that it wasn’t, and after a fair bit of the usual Metsian nonsense he actually got an MRI, which came up clean. Pitchers are habitual liars about how their arms feel, but they usually don’t lie with such ardor. So, no, I don’t think that’s it.

That makes the culprit mechanics, a point upon which most everybody connected to Metdom seems to agree. I didn’t follow the whole discussion, largely because it was really freaking late at night, but basically the dominoes of his motion aren’t falling properly, particularly when pitching from the stretch, and the arm is dragging, and pitches that last year were darting with pinpoint accuracy are sailing outside, or to the wrong side of the plate, and they’re either balls to be ignored or fat strikes that get whacked.

At least that’s what Jim Duquette said, and what Mickey Callaway [4] said, and what deGrom himself said. All offered variants of the same diagnosis, which is that it’s a mechanical flaw, the nature of that flaw is clear, and deGrom just has to turn the mechanical fixes into muscle memory to eliminate it. Which is a lot easier said than done, particularly after a stretch in which illness and rain and worry have done a number on deGrom’s usual between-games routine.

So say the people on the TV, and let’s hope so, because that does sound fixable. DeGrom’s cerebral and coachable and blessed with a lengthy track record of ideal mechanics and great success. Though of course the miracle is that pitchers can ever repeat their mechanics at all, given the complexities of pitching in isolation — to say nothing of game situations, aches and pains and everything else that can throw someone off by that minute fraction that means the clockwork jams up. Maybe the next start will be the one where deGrom’s location is there from the start, and the results are like the deGrom we saw not so long ago in Miami. Or maybe it will be the start after that.

Or OK, maybe this particular dark forest is darker than deGrom and his helpers realize, and they’re hacking their way deeper into it instead of back towards sunlight. That happens too.

Pitchers break — that’s a regrettable, bedrock fact of baseball. And even when they’re whole, pitching’s really hard. A season like Jacob deGrom’s 2018 is like a once-a-generation comet, to be viewed with awe and then remembered with a rueful, you-had-to-be-there head shake for years thereafter. Getting back to anywhere near that would be a victory for deGrom, the Mets and all of us.

Let’s hope it’s soon. And if it isn’t soon, let’s hope we can all be a little patient, and remember just how miraculous pitching on a high level is. It’s amazing it happens at all, let alone that it can become something you’re surprised not to see every fifth day.