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The eye is not accustomed to seeing Jacob deGrom throwing a fastball at 96 miles per hour, so when that happens, you immediately wonder about his arm.
Health was our first thought in the second inning of Wednesday’s eventual 4-3 Mets win over Milwaukee, when deGrom’s velocity didn’t ascend to the heights that we have come to expect. But then he threw 100 mph to strike out Jace Peterson.
Many more times -- but not always -- during his seven innings, deGrom touched triple digits. He is not usually a pitcher who intentionally takes something off his fastball to fool hitters -- so what was happening here? Was this a new strategy?
After the game, deGrom confirmed that it was.
“Yeah,” he said. “I did it some in [his previous start in] Atlanta. I felt like whenever guys are sitting there looking for 100, you throw a fastball in there at 95, and it’s almost like another pitch. I did it a few times in Atlanta and it was effective, so I did it a few times today as well.”
It’s the latest adjustment for a pitcher who enjoys reading opponents’ swings and figuring out what makes them uncomfortable. Now deGrom has a pitch that sits between the velocity of his fastball and change-up. Call it his … fast change? Slow heater? Those are dumb. Just call it a new wrinkle in his repertoire.
I also asked deGrom how he felt about his fastball generally in his past few starts, after giving up home runs on the pitch in consecutive games. It would be understandable if, even healthy, he felt some fatigue. Was the pitch as firm lately as it was for most of the first half?
DeGrom said that it was, and noted that location was more the issue on both last week’s first inning homer by Atlanta’s Austin Riley and Wednesday's by the Brewers’ Luis Urias.
“I look at the homer I gave up [to Urias] and he beat me to that spot,” deGrom said. “It was on the outer -- I would say it was on the corner but it just wasn't as down as I would like. He did a good job of covering that spot and kind of hitting it out of the ballpark. Same kind of as Riley did to me.”
If the occasionally diminished command stems from fatigue, deGrom is right to skip the All-Star Game next week. He can return rested afterwards, and continue to deploy his new little fastball trick.