ATLANTA – A manageable rotation situation took a potentially darker turn on Tuesday for the Mets, who lost Taijuan Walker back spasms after two innings of a 5-0 loss to the Braves at Truist Park. The affair happened less than 24 hours after fellow rotator Carlos Carrasco strained his left obliquebeating him for three to four weeks.
“It sucks, and the timing couldn’t be worse for something like this,” Walker said.
In the short term, Walker’s injury proved damaging as relievers RJ Alvarez and Stephen Nogosek allowed five runs over 4 1/3 innings behind him, including home runs to Robbie Grossman and Matt Olson. The loss trimmed New York’s division lead to 3 1/2 games.
Longer term, Walker is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday, which will shed more light on his injury. (He’s unsure if he can make his next start.) Even if Walker’s issue doesn’t keep him out for long, the Mets’ rotten rotation luck has put their depth chart under a microscope at a critical juncture in their season. New York already planned to dip into those reserves this weekend, with sixth and seventh starters David Peterson and Trevor Williams slated to start both halves of a doubleheader in Philadelphia. What if another injury strikes?
Here’s what the Mets’ rotation depth looks like with seven weeks left in the regular season:
(Note: These rankings are not official, but a rough estimate of where the following pitchers stand on the organizational hierarchy.)
No. 6 starter: LHP David Peterson
Key statistics: 14 starts, four relief innings, 3.30 ERA
So far, the Mets have resisted the temptation to convert Peterson to a full-time relief job, despite the presence of Joely Rodríguez as the only left-hander in the bullpen. Knowing they would need a sixth starter on Saturday at the very least, the Mets kept Peterson extended in the Minors so he could return to make that start.
Now, with Carrasco sidelined, the obvious move is for Peterson to remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future. That’s not a bad thing; as a starter, Peterson was excellent, with a 5-2 record and a 3.17 ERA in 14 starts. He is a key member of the club’s rotation depth for a reason.
No. 7 starter: RHP Trevor Williams
Key statistics: Eight starts, 14 relief appearances, 20 consecutive scoreless innings, 3.02 ERA
It’s hard to put into words Williams’ value to this staff. He’s been the glue guy all season, delivering everything from a two-out relief appearance back in April to a seven-inning scoreless start last month. If the Mets need Williams to start, he’ll start, and he’ll probably be pretty good at it.
“I appreciate that [manager] Buck [Showalter] trust me in this role,” Williams said. “I’m glad I’m able to contribute, whether that’s starting or relieving or getting a random hold every now and then, it’s fun.”
No. 8 starter: RHP Taylor Megill
Key statistics: Nine starts, 41 1/3 innings, 47 strikeouts, 5.01 ERA
The Mets’ Opening Day starter, Megill has been sidelined since June 17 with a right shoulder strain. He threw his first bullpen session Sunday and could advance to rehab games by the end of the month, but the Mets’ plan is to convert Megill to relief upon his return. That could change, of course, but even if it does, Megill would need time to stretch all the way back as a starter. He is not a short-term option in the rotation.
No. 9 starter: LHP Joey Lucchesi
Key statistics: Has not performed since June 18, 2021
Mets officials have yet to reveal their intentions for Lucchesi following his return from Tommy John surgery, which will likely happen in September. Lucchesi has at least some chance to convert to a relief job as well, given the Mets’ lack of left-handed depth. But he could also stretch out as a starting pitcher if that’s where the need is greatest. Lucchesi performed in both roles last year, producing a 1.19 ERA in his final five starts before tearing his elbow ligament.
Lucchesi has yet to begin a rehab assignment, but he has already thrown several live BP sessions, which is typically the final step before Minor League games.
No. 10 starter: RHP Jose Butto
Key statistics: 108 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings at Double-A Binghamton
The Mets’ rotation at Triple-A Syracuse has been a revolving door, with 17 different pitchers starting games for the club. The most intriguing name in the rotation right now is Butto, the team’s 12th-ranked prospect who earned a promotion there last week. Best known for his changeup, Butto recently started throwing a skate to expand his repertoire. The four-pitch mix makes him an intriguing pick for the Mets — maybe not this season, but at some point in the medium-term future.
“Every start, every routine in the bullpen, I try to be better, better, better,” Butto said last week. “I feel very good now that I have a new performance.”