Before Saturday afternoon’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets manager Terry Collins indicated that he might start using R.A. Dickey in relief, allowing the soft-throwing junk-ball ace to take some pressure off the Mets’ overworked bullpen.
The early returns on Collins’ decision are in, and if they’re any indication of what’s to come, he may want to reconsider.
In his first relief appearance of the season — not counting the All-Star Game, of course — the Mets’ superstar knuckleballer allowed a two-run, ninth-inning homer to struggling Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe, giving Los Angeles an extra two runs of cushion in an 8-5 win at Citi Field.
It was yet another poor showing for the one-time Cy Young favorite Dickey, who has looked extraordinarily pedestrian over last few weeks as opposing hitters have battered his fluttering knuckler around the yard with relative ease.
Now the bigger question, aside from whether Dickey should continue to get work out of the ‘pen following his disastrous debut, is whether Dickey and the Mets — who have now lost eight of their last nine games — have both already played their best baseball of the season.
“At this time of year, they all become the most important game, each and every day,” Collins said after the loss. “We’ve just got to keep fighting. This clubhouse is full of guys that understand that and realize that’s how we play and what we do. It’s no fun going through what we’re going through. … We’re doing the best we can right now, and it’s just not good enough.”
Collins’ sentiments were intended to reflect his feelings about the entire team, but they could also apply specifically to Dickey. On the whole, everything looks fine for the knuckleballer, but of late, he’s been anything but.
New York was already trailing 6-5 when Dickey entered Saturday’s game, so he still hasn’t lost since April 18, and his record still stands at a healthy 13-1, with his 13 wins tied with David Price for the most in baseball.
Additionally, Dickey’s ERA, which grew from 2.72 to 2.84 over the course of 15 pitches Saturday, is still among the top 15 in the league, ahead of such names as Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke.
But that doesn’t mean Dickey is pitching well. In fact, lately it’s been quite the contrary. And that Dickey’s overall numbers are still so good despite his disastrous July is more a testament to how outstanding he once was than how effective he’s been.
Over the last few weeks, Dickey has been a different pitcher on the mound. Regarded as superhuman in May and June, Dickey has regressed to the point where he’s really quite dull — that is to say, similar to his pre-Mets days with the Rangers, Twins and Mariners — and with each outing, he is leaving fans in New York longing for the All-Star they thought they knew.
On June 18 against Baltimore, Dickey threw what was, at the time, the second of two back-to-back one-hit gems, and in that moment, he was the most popular guy in baseball.
Dickey is still widely admired — you could hear it in the way the Citi Field crowd rallied behind him and chanted his name as he easily retired the first two batters Saturday — but in the 34 1/3 innings since that win over the Orioles, he’s also been disappointingly fallible.
Over that span, Dickey has made five starts — in addition to Saturday’s one-inning relief appearance — and, to his credit, he has gone 2-0. But his ERA in those appearances has been a dreadful 5.24, and he’s allowed three home runs, which is as many as he’d given up in his previous 11 starts combined.
Opposing hitters, which hit .194 off of Dickey over his first 14 starts of the season, are hitting .287 off of him during his slide. Take out Dickey’s one good start, an eight-inning, three-hit performance against Philadelphia on June 29, and his ERA is 6.15, while opposing hitters are hitting .327 off of him in the other 26 1/3 innings.
Dickey’s struggles of late are somewhat representative of the Mets as a whole. New York is now back down to .500 for the first time since May 4 and, at 47-47, are seven games behind the NL East-leading Nationals.
“It’s as hard as you make it,” Dickey said of coping with the team’s recent slide. “It’s hard to say because certainly you work hard to get a certain amount of games above .500, but every year is streaky. We’ve hit our losing streak but we haven’t hit our winning streak, and so hopefully we can hang on and churn a few out in a row.”
It won’t get any easier going forward, though. Mets starter Dillon Gee is likely out for the season after having surgery to repair a damaged artery in his pitching shoulder, and lefty Johan Santana, who was 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his last three starts, was just placed on the 15-day DL with an ankle injury.
Add Dickey’s regression to that, and it makes for an uphill climb in the pursuit of a coveted playoff spot.
“There’s no more pressure than you normally have on you; that’s just the way it is,” Dickey said. “This game is tough and you feel pressure every time you go out regardless of who’s healthy or who’s here or who’s not here. We certainly can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Nobody over there on the other side of the field is going to feel sorry for us, so we’ve got to find a way to right it up.”