WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tylor Megill is a mountain of a man who throws 99 mph, or at least he does in the highly-adrenalized state that comes with pitching on Opening Day, as he lit up the radar gun here on Thursday night, throwing harder than he ever did in his rookie season.
Yet this is what you first hear when you ask about Megill.
Jeremy Hefner: “Slow heartbeat.”
Buck Showalter: “Low pulse.”
NL scout: “I like his poise.”
Qualities you’d want in the doctor about to perform surgery on you, to be sure, but no small matter when pitching to big league hitters either.
No wonder the Mets felt they may have discovered a diamond in the rough last year when Megill came out of nowhere in their minor league system in his age-26 season to make an impression when the big-league team was desperate for pitching.
And who knows what they may be thinking after Megill stepped in for the injured Jacob deGrom in Thursday’s season opener and buzzsawed through the Nationals’ lineup for five scoreless innings as the Mets cruised to a 5-1 win.
Megill couldn’t have been much better, allowing three hits, no walks, and racking up six punch-outs while throwing 68 pitches. No doubt he would have gone deeper into the game if this wasn’t his first start.
So what the Mets are probably thinking is that they now have, at worst, a deep rotation even without their ace, and, at best, a late-blooming star in the making.
They weren’t shocked at what he did against the Nationals, put it that way. Before Megill wore down from the workload in the second half last season, he looked legit to scouts as well. They saw him improving his changeup to go with his high velocity, showing a fearlessness in the way he attacked hitters, and demonstrating a feel for pitching in the way he moved the ball around in and out of the strike zone.
Then there’s that makeup – the heartbeat, the pulse, the poise that is sometimes what separates good from mediocre, and great from good.
Showalter, for one, loves the guy. Buck is never going to speak in hyperbole but when you’ve been around him long enough you can read a lot between the lines, and when he starts talking about how well a player must have been raised by his parents, well, that’s a sure tipoff.
He talked that way about Derek Jeter way back in 1995, to name the most notable of examples, and there have been others over the years. It’s his way of saying he thinks a player has what it takes to be special in a team-first, small-ego kind of way.
And, sure, enough, when the manager was asked about Megill before Thursday’s game, he started with “low pulse” and then transitioned to the parents.
“I was talking to him yesterday about pitching,” Showalter said. “You can tell his mom and dad did a nice job with him. He stays in reality. Doesn’t drink the kool-aid. He’ll do what he can do. See if the other team will cooperate.”
Turns out the other team did cooperate, and it’s worth remembering these are the Nationals, a far cry from the team that won the World Series in 2019. They’re in something of a rebuilding phase, albeit with two of the highest-paid pitchers in baseball and likely baseball’s soon-to-be first $500 million man in Juan Soto.
And, no, it’s not the toughest lineup for a pitcher to navigate, but it’s not toothless either, with Soto, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Bell as their 2-3-4 hitters.
Soto, who homered later in the game against Trevor May, may be the most feared hitter in baseball these days, and there he was, at the plate in the third inning when the score was still 0-0 with one out and runners at first and third – the moment of truth for Megill in this game.
Here’s where heartbeat, pulse, and poise mattered. Megill could have been out of the inning by then. Pete Alonso had missed a tag on Alcides Escobar after a pickoff throw by James McCann had the runner dead to rights, and then Cesar Hernandez reached on a slow chopper in no-man’s land that Alonso probably should have fielded but gave way to Robinson Cano, who couldn’t make the play in time.
So here came Soto with a chance to break the game open early. And, remember, left-handed hitters were Megill’s weak spot last season: they hit .315 with a whopping .612 slugging percentage against him, compared to .200/.333 by right-handed hitters.
It set up a great confrontation:
Megill started Soto with a 90 mph changeup, getting a called strike. Threw a second changeup that Soto wouldn’t chase down-and-away. So at 1-1 Megill challenged Soto with a 96 mph in a good spot, just up enough and Soto fouled it back. Another fastball inside for a 2-2 count.
At that point, after two straight fastballs, Soto may have been looking for a changeup, but Megill challenged him again, blowing a 98 mph fastball by him for strike three. Again, in a good spot, just up enough to beat Soto.
Then Cruz, still dangerous at age 41 until proven otherwise: Megill fell behind 2-0 in the count then threw his best changeup of the night, an 88 mph dead fish that fell off the table as Cruz flailed at it. Having put that thought in his head, Megill came back with 96 to a deadly fastball hitter and just beat him enough to get a routine ground ball for the third out.
It was a memorable escape, to the point where I was compelled to text a former big-league pitcher that I knew would be watching for a quick reaction.
“I liked that he pitched,” he texted back. “Used one pitch to set up another. And he didn’t flinch against those two guys. Liked it. He’s got some moxie.”
Heartbeat, pulse, poise, and moxie.
Yes, it’s clear that people see something special in Megill. It’s only one start so it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but considering the circumstances, an inexperienced pitcher unexpectedly stepping onto the big stage that is Opening Day, the 6-foot-7 righthander sure gave the Mets more reason to believe he can be the real thing.
Source: Yahoo Sports