David Peterson knows what it is like to be the injured pitcher stuck on the sideline.
He was just a week away from his senior season at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., when he broke the fibula in his right leg in a pickup basketball game. Peterson, now 26, snapped the bone in two places while pushing off for a layup. The injury required surgery and all but forced him to attend college.
He called it a “life-changing” moment.
“It crushed me,” said Peterson, a left-handed pitcher who despite the injury was selected in the 28th round of the 2014 M.L.B. draft by the Red Sox, but chose not to sign. “It kind of killed my chances to have a real good opportunity to go into professional baseball out of high school. It kind of made my decision for me, that I was going to go to Oregon and get a couple years of college. In the grand scheme of things, looking back, it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
“I wouldn’t trade my three years that I had at Oregon for anything. Wouldn’t be sitting here today, probably, if I didn’t do it.”
Here, of course, is the Mets’ rotation.
Peterson’s record-setting career at the University of Oregon led to the Mets’ taking him with the 20th overall pick in the 2017 draft. He was in the majors by 2020, making 25 appearances for the Mets in his first two seasons, with mixed results and more injuries.
Now, however, Peterson is the one who is healthy, and other pitchers are the ones who are hurt. Max Scherzer is recovering from an oblique strain, Jacob deGrom has a shoulder injury and Tylor Megill, an early-season breakout star, is working his way back from biceps tendinitis.
With those three on the shelf, Peterson has stepped up for the Mets’ short-handed staff. He has a 3.03 E.R.A. over 29⅔ innings, and the Mets have won all five games Peterson (2-0) has started. Not bad for a guy who did not make the opening day roster.
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“Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls, it’s more democratic.”
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“He knows there’s an opportunity for him now,” Manager Buck Showalter said before Peterson’s most recent start. “He’s trying to run through the door with it.”
While Peterson has mostly delivered, his performance on Monday against the Washington Nationals served as a reminder that he is still subject to growing pains. He allowed four earned runs over four and two-thirds innings, walked four and struck out one. That effort was enough for the Mets in a 13-5 win.
A lack of stability has not made this process any easier for Peterson.
While Showalter says Peterson has “graduated” to getting “consistent reps as a starter,” that was not the case for most of this season. His first appearance was four innings in relief on April 11, and he has yet to make more than two consecutive starts at the same level this year, as he was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse multiple times so the Mets could navigate their injury woes. Peterson went 10 days between a start May 13, in the minors, and May 23, in the majors. The gap, however, did not stop him from earning a win in the latter start, in which he limited the San Francisco Giants to two earned runs over six innings.
He went another seven days before throwing against the Nationals on Monday.
Peterson said that while his goal is to be a fixture in the team’s rotation, he tries not to think about how he fits into the puzzle, whether it be now or when the team’s other pitchers heal. “I can’t control what the front office decides to do or any of the moves that are made,” he said. “My focus is on my work every day and getting better.”
It is the right attitude, but in practice it can be hard to pull off.
“It’s extremely hard,” reliever Drew Smith said of pitching under such fluid circumstances. “You try not to think about it, but it’s always in the back of your mind whether the team has to make a move, if it’s going to be you, things like that. But once you settle into a role that you know you’re going to have an extended period of time to prove yourself in, it definitely makes it easier on you.”
Peterson is trying to embrace the competition. He said he was thrilled with the off-season acquisitions of Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, even though those moves stifled his prospects of starting the 2022 season in the majors.
“Everyone has each other’s back,” Peterson said. “There’s no animosity in terms of guys fighting for the same position. We’re all here for the same goal,” which is to bring a World Series championship to Queens.
Peterson has also tried to soak up as much information as he can from his peers, a habit that he developed while mending his broken leg in high school. “He’s a watcher,” Showalter said approvingly. “He looks at the games and he’s talking to players and seeing things.”
Peterson thinks he has things to learn from each of the Mets’ starters, but the chance to be around Scherzer and deGrom has been especially informative. “I couldn’t have two better guys to learn from,” Peterson said. “That’s two future Hall of Famers, five Cy Youngs between the two of them.”
Scherzer is weeks away from returning, and while there has been some recent optimism with deGrom, who has not pitched yet this season, that situation is still in wait-and-see mode as he works through a stress reaction in his scapula. Megill, meanwhile, was hoping to throw live batting practice Tuesday after landing on the injured list May 12.
By improving his consistency and being a reliable option for the team, Peterson hopes he can stick around when his famous teammates get back from their injuries.
“It’s exciting to be part of a rotation like this,” Peterson said. “Obviously, we’ve got some key guys out, but it’s been a next man up mentality for me. It’s my turn to come in and give the team quality starts and get us deep into games and try to help us win as many ballgames as I can.”