SEATTLE -- Behind closed doors, the Mets talk constantly about how to preserve their young pitchers. Arm injuries, the Mets know, are endemic in today's game. The club has already suffered its share. So after unearthing a prospect as successful as, say, Jacob deGrom, the Mets want to do all they can to protect him.
As manager Terry Collins put it earlier this week, "We don't need to have another Matt Harvey on our hands."
But that line of thinking runs directly contrary to the Mets' other stated goal: to win as much as possible. Every five days, deGrom routinely gives the club a strong chance at victory, as he did with seven shining innings in Tuesday night's 3-1 win over the Mariners. Unless or until that changes, the Mets will grapple with the issue of how to limit his innings.
"As we all know, fatigue is what leads to injuries," Collins said. "Is there any way around it?"
For now, the Mets will simply watch deGrom carefully and enjoy the ride. Already a leading National League Rookie of the Year candidate, deGrom padded his stat line with seven strikeouts while allowing one run on five hits and one walk. Relying as usual on his mid-90s fastball, high-80s slider and tumbling change, deGrom improved to 4-1 over his last six starts, with a 1.59 ERA, 45 whiffs and 11 walks in 39 2/3 innings.
"He's been dominant, actually," said first baseman Lucas Duda, who provided some late insurance with a 446-foot solo homer. "To me, it looks like he's comfortable. He has that vibe out there."
Since June 21, deGrom and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw are the only pitchers in baseball with at least 45 strikeouts and an ERA under 4.00 (deGrom's is 1.59). Since July 8, deGrom has been even better, going 3-0 with 26 strikeouts, three walks and a 0.86 ERA. Not even Kershaw can match that.
"He's always flown under the radar -- still is," Collins said. "This guy's got numbers to match up with any rookie in the league and you never hear his name mentioned."
deGrom's only real trouble Tuesday came in the fifth inning, when Dustin Ackley followed Willie Bloomquist's one-out single with an RBI double to center. But the rookie escaped further damage, going on to complete his ninth quality start (in 13 outings) on 107 pitches.
"He's got a big arm," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He kept the ball down, worked in and out, and he also had a good changeup. When we did have the opportunities, we just didn't take advantage of them."
By the middle innings, New York's offense was completely stalled against Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez, who struck out eight of the final 16 batters he faced. But the Mets had already cracked Ramirez for Travis d'Arnaud's RBI triple and Ruben Tejada's run-scoring single in the second inning, which proved to be enough.
Duda's homer off Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth provided unneeded insurance for relievers Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, who locked down the final two innings.
It was very much a team victory for the Mets, particularly with outfielders Curtis Granderson (flu-like symptoms) and Chris Young (left calf) both nursing ailments. But the lion's share of credit went to deGrom, who continues to entrench himself in his team's future plans.
The concern is that deGrom's success will eventually spike his workload to concerning levels. With more than 119 innings on his ledger, deGrom will soon begin approaching the roughly 185-inning limit the organization plans to impose upon him.
The team is particularly sensitive to this sort of thing after watching Harvey succumb to Tommy John surgery last year, despite the Mets limiting his innings in similar fashion. They can ill afford another major pitching injury to Harvey, deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard or any of their other talented young arms.
For deGrom, the fallout may involve hitting the bench early on a night when he could have pitched deeper into the game. It may eventually even mean moving to the bullpen. The Mets insist that once the time comes, they will do whatever it takes, but for now they are content to sit back and watch deGrom blaze his way through the league.
"We are seeing exactly what all the reports out of the Minor Leagues have ever said about this guy," Collins said. "It's really impressive to see."