SAN FRANCISCO — It’s a place to start, maybe a bit of an audition, but certainly not the kind of thing that’s meant to last. Injuries and a suspension have burned four-fifths of the Mets’ projected rotation. Their initial wave of Minor League depth is already in the Majors. Forget an exceptional performance. From Joey Lucchesi, the Mets just want innings.
Making his first Major League appearance since Tommy John surgery nearly two years ago, Lucchesi gave the Mets that and then some, and then some. In Friday’s 7-0 victory over the Giants at Oracle Park, Lucchesi delivered the easiest start of any Met this season, and arguably the best of his entire career: seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. In terms of game score — a measurement of a starting pitcher’s overall effectiveness — it was Lucchesi’s most outstanding performance (game score of 79) since becoming a big leaguer five years ago.
“It’s sick, man,” Lucchesi said. “I think it was my best outing.”
Shaky early, Lucchesi put two of the first three batters he faced on base, then walked the leadoff man at second. He admits to some nerves. But when Lucchesi struck out Heliot Ramos to escape the second inning, his confidence soared. He said to himself, “Oh, I got it,” and from that point on, he got it. Starting with Ramos’ strikeout, Lucchesi retired 14 of the last 17 batters he faced, striking out all nine of his batters during that stretch.
Pete Alonso provided the needed offense with a two-run homer in the fifth inning off Anthony DeSclafani, who became the first player in Mets history to hit 10 home runs before the start of May. But even Alonso, who finished with four RBI and punished some of the league’s top pitchers this season, was stunned by Lucchesi’s accomplishment.
“He’s just carving,” Alonso said, referring to the “funk” and “uniqueness” of his teammate’s left-handed delivery.
“You can see his confidence grow as he keeps getting through the innings,” manager Buck Showalter added.
For Lucchesi, this initiation is special for three distinct reasons. First, about 50 of the East Bay native’s family members and friends attended, including his parents and siblings. Lucchesi grew up an A’s fan in Newark, Calif., just a half-hour drive from Oracle Park.
In past years, he told his parents not to attend his games because he was nervous in their presence. But due to both the location of this one and his long absence from the Majors, Lucchesi decided to extend the rare invitation.
“I’ll tell them to go whenever they want now,” Lucchesi said, laughing.
The second reason for Lucchesi’s joy is the significance of this performance for the Mets. Losing four of their regular starters to a trio of injuries and Max Scherzer’s suspension, the Mets have leaned heavily on pitchers like David Peterson, Tylor Megill and José Butto — all of whom were originally slated to be in the Triple-A Syracuse’s rotation . They might all be in the big leagues next week. Given that context, Showalter described Lucchesi as “another guy who dials it up in times of need.”
But this victory is also personal for Lucchesi, who has spent the past 22 months grinding his way back from Tommy John surgery. Before undergoing surgery in June 2021, Lucchesi felt he had finally earned his spot in the big leagues, relying on an increase in velocity to produce solid results. The operation changed that, as well as his thinking. While rehabbing, Lucchesi worked on his diet, his breathing and his repertoire, honing his cutter so he could become a true three-pitch pitcher.
He called Tommy John rehab a “frustrating” experience, especially given the lack of clarity about his future. When Lucchesi reported to Florida as a healthy pitcher this spring, he ranked no higher than eighth on the Mets’ starting pitching depth chart.
“And then fast forward to this outing,” said Lucchesi, who is expected to get at least one more start next week. “A lot of emotions. You just have to try to stay patient and wait for that moment, and that moment for me is tonight.”