David Peterson knows what it’s like to be the injured pitcher stuck on the sidelines.
He was just a week into his senior season at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado when he broke his right leg fibula during a basketball game. Peterson, now 26, broke the bone in two places while pushing for a layup. The injury required surgery and nearly 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 MLB draft by the Red Sox but opted not to sign. “It kind of killed my chances of having a really good opportunity to get into professional baseball after high school. It kind of decided for me, that I was going to go to Oregon and do a few years of In the grand scheme of things, looking back, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
“I wouldn’t trade my three years at Oregon for anything in the world. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today if I didn’t.
Here, of course, is the Mets rotation.
Peterson’s record career at the University of Oregon led the Mets to take him with the 20th overall pick in the 2017 draft. He was in the majors in 2020, making 25 appearances for the Mets during his first two seasons, with mixed results and more injuries.
Now, however, Peterson is the healthy one, and the other pitchers are the injured ones. Max Scherzer is recovering from an oblique pull, Jacob deGrom has a shoulder injury and Tylor Megill, an early season star, is recovering from biceps tendonitis.
With those three on the shelf, Peterson stepped up on the Mets’ shorthanded staff. He has a 3.03 ERA in 29⅔ innings, and the Mets have won all five games Peterson (2-0) has started. Not bad for a guy who didn’t make the opening day roster.
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“He knows there’s an opportunity for him now,” manager Buck Showalter said ahead of Peterson’s latest departure. “He’s trying to get through the door with it.”
Although Peterson mostly delivered his performances, his performance on Monday against the Washington Nationals served as a reminder that he’s still prone to growing pains. He allowed four earned runs in 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 did not make this process any easier for Peterson.
While Showalter says Peterson “graduated” to get “consistent reps as a starter,” that wasn’t 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 picked multiple times for Class AAA Syracuse so the Mets could overcome their injury problems. Peterson spent 10 days between a May 13 start in the minors and May 23 in the majors. The gap, however, didn’t stop him from picking up a win in that final start, in which he held the San Francisco Giants to two earned runs in six innings.
He went another seven days before pitching against the Nationals on Monday.
Peterson said that while his goal is to be an integral part of the team’s rotation, he tries not to think about how he fits into the puzzle, either now or when other pitchers of the team heal. “I can’t control what the front office decides to do or any of the moves that are made,” he said. “I’m focusing on my day-to-day work and getting better.”
It’s the right attitude, but in practice, it can be hard to pull off.
“It’s extremely difficult,” reliever Drew Smith said of pitching under such fluid circumstances. “You try not to think about it, but you always have in mind if the team has to move, if it’s going to be you, things like that. But once you settle into a role that you know that you are going to have a long period of time to prove yourself, it definitely makes it easier for you.
Peterson tries to embrace the competition. He said he was delighted with the off-season acquisitions of Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, even if those moves stifled his chances of starting the 2022 season at the majors.
“Everyone supports each other,” Peterson said. “There is no animosity between 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 also tried to gather as much information as possible from his peers, a habit he developed while fixing his broken leg in high school. “He’s a watcher,” Showalter said approvingly. “He watches the games and he talks to the players and sees 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 particularly enlightening. “I couldn’t have had two better guys to learn from,” Peterson said. “It’s two future Hall of Famers, five Cy Youngs between them.”
Scherzer is weeks away from his return, and while there has been some recent optimism with deGrom, who has yet to kick off this season, that situation is still in wait-and-see mode as he works on a reaction of stress in his shoulder blade. Megill, meanwhile, was hoping to kick off a live batting practice on Tuesday after landing on the May 12 disabled list.
By improving his consistency and being a reliable option for the team, Peterson hopes he can stick around when his famous teammates recover from injuries.
“It’s exciting to be part of a rotation like this,” Peterson said. “Obviously we have some key guys, but it’s a next man mentality for me. It’s my turn to come in and give the team some quality starts and get us deep into the matches and try to help us win as many ball matches as possible.