Carlos Carrasco’s first-inning issues could improve with variation of pitch selection says Mets’ Luis Rojas

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On the day after they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, cementing a season of regret, the Mets handed the ball to a pitcher who has been swallowed by disappointment in his first year in Queens.

Carlos Carrasco made his 11th start of 2021 on Sunday, facing a Milwaukee Brewers squad on the brink of clinching the NL Central.

The dichotomy of the Mets and Brewers is striking. The Mets were a stacked, star-studded team that underperformed all season while the Brewers cobbled together a postseason roster that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

For Carrasco, who’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last six starts — bouncing back admirably from the meltdown against the Dodgers on Aug. 15 that sent his ERA above 10 — Sunday’s start will be all about pride. No ballplayer wants to watch an opposing team celebrate on the field after a game, let alone in a season that started so joyously before taking an alarming nosedive. The right-hander also came into Sunday holding a first-inning ERA of 14.40, as an astounding 16 of the 26 earned runs he’s allowed this season have come in the first frame.

“The pitching coaches here are very thorough and open with him about what’s going on there,” manager Luis Rojas said of Carrasco’s early-game demons. “It’s not that he’s going to go out in the first inning and start overthinking or changing things from who he is. He’s going to go out there and attack batters.”

With essentially nothing to lose anymore, Rojas said before the game he expected Carrasco to be aggressive with the Brewers from the very first pitch. However, the skipper said a slight variation of pitch selection could be the avenue toward minor improvements.

“I think the fastball and the slider have been the pitches that have hurt him in the first inning,” Rojas exposed. “Not the changeup, the changeup has been a special pitch that’s helped him get through the lineup a few times. It’ll be interesting if he starts mixing more in the first inning. He’s just not going to shy away. I think the opposing team is going to expect that. One thing for sure is that he’s going to attack the zone.”

The Brewers’ offense has seen the lowest percentage of first-pitch strikes of any National League team this season. Knowing how patient Craig Counsell’s hitters can be, an attack-minded game plan certainly made sense for Carrasco, it was just a matter of executing his pitches.

Execute he did not. Carrasco needed 29 pitches to get the first three outs, allowing two runs when Willy Adames went deep for a 434-foot aerial display. The aggression wasn’t totally there either, as Carrasco walked the leadoff hitter and ran the count full three times.

ANY MORE FROM THOR?

A potential point of intrigue for the Mets as they close out the season is the looming specter of Noah Syndergaard. The 29-year-old is an unrestricted free agent after the season and likely wants to get at least one MLB appearance in before hitting the open market. But with the Mets playing non-meaningful games the rest of the way, the club’s need to get Syndergaard on the mound is essentially zero.

Rojas was non-committal about a plan, but the pitcher’s minor league game log shows that he’s at least capable of a showcase inning in relief. Rather than being on the typical five-day rotation of a starting pitcher, Syndergaard has been pitching every three days in the minor leagues. He threw a hit-less inning in Triple-A on Sept. 22 before allowing one hit but getting two strikeouts in the follow-up outing on Saturday.

“We’ve been talking about Noah joining the club,” Rojas said. “That could happen this week, but we’re still evaluating how he’s bouncing back from [Saturday’s] outing and what the need is.”

The current schedule would line Syndergaard up to pitch again on Tuesday. Again, Rojas would not say whether that would be for the Syracuse Mets or the ones at the big-league level who have a doubleheader against the Marlins and would presumably need some arms.

“We haven’t talked about it,” Rojas deflected, saying he met with the team’s performance staff on Sunday morning. “We’re evaluating it and we’ll make a decision.”

J.D. TO THE IL

In a flurry of roster moves announced less than an hour before Sunday’s first pitch, the Mets placed J.D. Davis on the 10-day injured list with a left hand sprain, ending his season.

Sean Reid-Foley was reinstated from the 60-day IL (elbow inflammation had kept him away from the Mets since June 30) and outfielder Albert Almora was designated for assignment.

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