BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Buck Showalter’s strength as a manager comes from having the right instincts on how to use his players. After Jacob deGrom was sent to the injured list with a stress reaction on his shoulder last week, he named Tylor Megill to start on Opening Day against the Washington Nationals rather than move Max Scherzer up. He felt his Opening Day starter wouldn’t be caught up in the moment.
Megill showed Thursday night why Showalter knows what he’s doing. On his first Opening Day start of his career, he allowed no runs and three hits while striking out six in five innings in the Mets’ 5-1 victory against the Washington Nationals. He joined deGrom for throwing a scoreless Opening Day start for the Mets’ four straight seasons.
There’s a reason Showalter won 1,552 games and why he may be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame one day. There’s a reason Megill showed he had the goods not just to start Opening Day, but to be a valuable contributor in the starting rotation this season. He provides much-needed depth the Mets need to survive in a long season.
No one could have been surprised Megill did well in this spot. He showed he can pitch last season by attacking the strike zone , working fast and getting ahead of the hitters. He demonstrated it on this night, especially when he hit 99-mph on the gun couple of times to start the first inning.
Here’s what stood out about him: He allowed no walks, and he pitched with such poise when he pitched through jams a couple of times in the game.
With Lane Thomas at first on Francisco Lindor’s throwing error to Pete Alonso and Keibert Ruiz at second and one out in the second inning, Megill got out of it by forcing Maikel Franco to ground into a double play.
In the third inning, Megill pitched through another jam with Alcides Escobar at third and Cesar Hernandez at first with 1 out. This time, he faced NL MVP runnerup and one of 2022 NL MVP favorites Juan Soto. This would serve to be no problem as he struck out Soto at 98-mph to get that much-needed second out. It gave him the confidence right there that he can get out of it, and he did by getting ageless wonder Nelson Cruz to ground out to end the threat.
From there, it was smooth sailing for Megill, who finished his night throwing eight strikes on eight pitches in the fifth inning. He could have gone six or seven innings, but rarely do you see a starter go deep on Opening Day or his first start of the season because he does not have the arm strength yet to do that. Plus, it made sense to have the Mets bullpen get work off and running in the first game of the season.
The second and third inning was Megill at his finest. No moment is too big for him there. Facing Soto in the third inning could have been doom and gloom for him. Instead, he won the battle since he embraced being in a spot like that. Same thing in the second inning when he could fell apart after Lindor’s error. He bounced back by pitching through it. It’s no wonder Showalter loved his presentation and body language in spring training. It’s that moment that made the Mets manager feel comfortable in starting him in the first game of the season.
Megill pitched like a starter who expected to be in the starting rotation one way or another to start the season. After last year’s learning experience, he knew he was good enough to be there. Maybe that’s why no one should have been surprised he rose to the occasion in this spot. He did fine last year until he hit the innings limit in August. He clearly prepared himself to get ready to make starts early on after pitching well enough in spring training. Maybe that’s what sold Showalter on him to make this start right there.
For Megill, it was no sweat. Just another start. Maybe he was excited on the inside. There had to be nerves because that’s the way it goes on Opening Day. Everyone wants to be the guy on that day. Lindor hacked at so many pitches trying to hit a home run to make amends for a disappointing season last year.
Whatever it is, Megill managed his emotions well. It served him well in the second and third inning. You did not need to be a sabermetric wonk to know how good he was last night. Your eyes told you everything.
On Wednesday, Showalter mentioned that no one is going to remember who started on Opening Day a month from now.
Megill and Mets fans beg to differ. Even the Mets manager knows better after watching his starter shine on this Thursday night in our nation’s capital.
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