NEW YORK — During a shaky moment for the Mets in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader at Citi Field, Braves lefty slugger Matt Olson came to the plate with two men on base in the seventh. Lacking a trustworthy lefty reliever, manager Buck Showalter turned instead to right-hander Adam Ottavino, who allowed an RBI single to Olson before escaping the inning.
On this early August afternoon, Peterson played his traditional role as a starting pitcher, delivering 5 1/3 scoreless innings in an 8-5 win over the Braves. Mets officials trust him as a starter and see him as a long-term rotation solution. But with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer healthy and the rest of the rotation mostly humming, there is currently no room for Peterson in that role. More than that, there’s a notable need in the bullpen, where general manager Billy Eppler — citing the high cost of acquisition — declined to add a lefty before the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline.
It’s a clear opportunity for Peterson, who could be the Mets’ best option against the types of left-handed sluggers they might see in October, including Olson, the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman, the Padres’ Juan Soto and other giants of the game.
“I’m ready to take that job,” Peterson said.
Consider: entering Saturday, Peterson had limited left-handed hitters to a .180/.275/.443 slash line, and that was before he struck out the two lefties in Atlanta’s starting lineup — Olson and Michael Harris II — three times in five plate appearances.
Compare that to Joely Rodríguez, the only left-hander in New York’s bullpen, who has allowed same-sided hitters to touch him for a .204/.339/.315 slash line — not bad, but also not consistent. Upon declining to trade for a lefty such as Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore or many other purportedly available arms at the Deadline, Eppler explained that the Mets “know Joely has some track record, and feel comfortable with him being able to get back to being the best version of himself.”
If Rodríguez can’t do that, Peterson offers a tempting Plan B. Even if Rodríguez can, Peterson could provide value as an alternative lefty option. Before briefly optioning Peterson to the Minors last month to keep him stretched out as a starter, the Mets began prepping him with a two-appearance cameo as a Major League reliever.
“Everything’s in play later in the season,” Showalter said. “We’ll consider everything.”
For now, Peterson remains an important piece of rotation depth. Following Game 1 of the doubleheader, the Mets optioned Peterson to Triple-A Syracuse to keep him stretched out as a starter, knowing another doubleheader looms Aug. 20 against the Phillies. Such depth is important for a club that understands the fluid nature of big league pitching staffs; given the possibility of injuries, rainouts or any number of other issues, it’s highly unlikely that deGrom, Scherzer, Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker will start all 55 of the Mets’ remaining games. If a need pops up in the rotation, Peterson has earned the right to fill it, given his 5-2 record and 3.17 ERA as a starting pitcher.
Saturday, Peterson pitched into the sixth despite a limited pitch count and a shaky beginning, which included a bases-loaded Atlanta threat in the first. Over the game’s first four innings, Peterson walked three batters and stranded five, relying on a double-play ball and some increased velocity. As a highlight, the left-hander threw a 99 mph sinker to Olson, topping his previous career best by more than two full ticks of the radar gun.
It’s the type of thing that could play up even more in the bullpen, where the Mets are already planning to use Tylor Megill — another one-time rotation depth piece — in September and October. Club officials have yet to discuss the same possibility with Peterson.
If and when they do, he’ll be receptive.
“The goal is for this team to win, and for us to reach our ultimate goal,” Peterson said. “Any way that I can help possible, that’s what I’m here to do.”