NEW YORK -- Jacob deGrom has the baseball from his first big league strikeout. He kept the ball from his first big league hit. Both are highlights on a growing list of professional accomplishments.
But deGrom does not have a ball for his first big league victory. Despite a 1.83 ERA through three starts, completing at least six innings in all of them and throwing a career-high 122 pitches in a 5-3 Mets loss to the Pirates on Monday, deGrom is winless in his young career.
Accountability followed this one. Minutes after the loss, the Mets dismissed hitting coach Dave Hudgens and released relief pitcher Jose Valverde, who gave up four of Pittsburgh's five runs.
"This is unfortunately what baseball is about," general manager Sandy Alderson said of the shakeup.
Perhaps if nothing else, the changes will allow deGrom, eventually, to pick up his first win. The rookie has performed better than the Mets could have imagined through his first three outings, but New York's offense has plated a total of four runs with him on the mound.
Considering the Mets' consistent inability to score, it was only a matter of time before Pittsburgh took advantage on Monday. First baseman Gaby Sanchez finally did with a go-ahead RBI single off Valverde in the ninth, before Curtis Granderson compounded the issue by allowing another run to score on a throwing error. Yet another came home on Russell Martin's RBI double off Carlos Torres.
Taking the mound amid postcard-perfect conditions in a Memorial Day matinee, deGrom held the Pirates scoreless over 6 2/3 innings. With five walks on his line and baserunners in every inning but one, deGrom's outing was not always pretty. But it was effective.
"My job is to keep us in the ballgame," deGrom said. "I'm trying to go out there and do that every time. Wins will take care of themselves, I think, as long as I give us a chance."
In the first inning, deGrom loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, before inducing a double play from Martin to escape unscathed. An inning later, he put two men on base with no outs, then retired the next three in order.
Pittsburgh's stream of baserunners never really ended, but neither did deGrom's knack for stranding them. It was not until after deGrom left the game that Sanchez -- pinch-hitting for former Mets first baseman Ike Davis -- put the Pirates on the board with a homer against Scott Rice to lead off the eighth.
Three batters later, Valverde entered and served up a two-out double to Starling Marte and a game-tying single to pinch-hitter Jose Tabata, ensuring a no-decision for deGrom. Both Sanchez and Valverde remained in their respective lineups, allowing them to meet with the game on the line in the ninth.
"He was the closer today," manager Terry Collins said of Valverde, noting that regular ninth-inning man Jenrry Mejia was unavailable after pitching in both halves of Sunday's doubleheader. "I thought that was the time to use the closer."
The Mets had taken a two-run lead off Pirates starter Brandon Cumpton in the fifth inning. After Daniel Murphy drove in the game's first run with a single, Juan Lagares attempted to score from first when right fielder Josh Harrison's throw sailed toward Pittsburgh's dugout. Umpires initially ruled Lagares out, but decided during a replay review that Martin was illegally blocking the plate.
In his return to Flushing, Davis finished 0-for-2 with a walk, while Lucas Duda was 2-for-4 with a ninth-inning homer. Comparisons between those two will linger for the rest of their careers, considering the Mets essentially chose Duda over Davis when they traded the latter to Pittsburgh last month.
"It was good to get back here," Davis said. "I didn't get booed as much as I thought I was. There was a lot of cheering, so that was really nice of them. I'm glad our team had a good game today."
Davis was among the many players Hudgens worked to develop over his three-plus years in Flushing, with mixed results. Now, Duda's ongoing struggles will be one of the most pressing issues that new hitting coach Lamar Johnson must address.
"Maybe Lamar can come in here and say what Dave says in a different manner, a different way and it gets through," Collins said. "Or maybe the fact that Dave is not here, all of the sudden these guys realize, 'Hey, look, I need to kick it in here.' Once in a while, you make a change to have a different voice."