NEW YORK — In the days after one of the statistically worst starts of his career, Chris Bassitt spoke to longtime teammate Mark Canha, who urged him to stop pitching batsmen so hesitantly. Bassitt apologized to his catchers Tomás Nido and Patrick Mazeika for not speaking more directly to them about his game plans. He pored over a month’s data of errors. He flew back from the West Coast early to get some rest and prepare for his next start against the Brewers.
In short, Bassitt did everything possible to remedy his ailments. Six days later, he responded with one of the best starts of his career, delivering eight shutouts in Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over Milwaukee.
“He’s a great shooter,” Canha said. “Execution is the hardest part, right? But the change in mentality will just help him a lot.”
The most obvious difference was Bassitt’s strike throw at each point throughout the night. Bassitt threw more strikes in Tuesday’s win than he pitched in total last time out in San Diego. These included first pitch strikes against 18 of the 26 batters he faced at Citi Field. His hit rate increased from 60 percent to 71 percent.
Bassitt didn’t change his pitch mix all that significantly, throwing in a few more curveballs and a few less sliders. But he used all six of his offers aggressively, allowing him to face the minimum number of hitters in the first four innings. By the eighth, Bassitt was still grooving, beating four of the last five Brewers he faced to complete his longest stint as a Met.
“You could tell early on that he was aggressive,” said manager Buck Showalter. “We’ve seen the level at which he can pitch and I know how frustrating it’s been for him here lately. But guys like him, you just trust the moxie and the want they have. They find out and make adjustments.”
For Bassitt, that meant spending a lot of time between starts with Nido to “get on the same page.” When regular Mets catcher James McCann ended up on the injury list in May, Nido became the nominal starter, but Bassitt never spent much time discussing game plans or personal preferences with him. Instead, the veteran shrugged off countless pitch calls on the mound, causing frustration for both men. It was only during their conversation last week that the two began to understand each other.
“I was able to completely break down what was going on,” Bassitt said. “I just thought me and Nido were gone. We weren’t on the same page at all. The more I fought, the worse and worse it got.”
“Today we went a different way and it worked,” added Nido.
All in all, from May 19 through June 8, Bassitt posted a 7.62 ERA over a five-start stretch, throwing Nido in four of those outings and Mazeika in the other. Bassitt had not won a game since May 8.
After his explosion in seven runs against the Padres, the right-hander struggled to define the issue. That’s where Canha came in, playing alongside him for six seasons at Oakland. Noticing how passive Bassitt has been in recent starts, Canha challenged him to challenge hitters by trusting his stuff in the hitting zone. Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner suggested similar thoughts, setting up game-like scenarios during Bassitt’s bullpen session to get him to become more aggressive.
“It seemed to me like he was trying to be too cautious,” Canha said. “I felt like he already knew that and was ready to make the adjustment, but I’m sure it was nice for him to hear that just to be sure someone else saw the same thing.”
Even when the Brewers hit the ball on Tuesday, the Mets’ improved defense had no trouble dealing with it. In the third inning, Brandon Nimmo made a dive catch on a sinking liner to rob Hunter Renfroe of an extra base hit. (Statcast put it at 20 percent chance of catching.) In game six, Luis Guillorme and Francisco Lindor made a nifty turn on Bassitt’s third double-play ball of the night.
The Mets received all the offense they needed early tonight, including two RBIs from Pete Alonso, to hold their 59 National League lead. But the game was all about Bassitt, whose work over the past week has allowed him to regain his rhythm.
“I really regret not having done it a few weeks ago, but I just didn’t know,” Bassitt said. “I made a crucial judgment error that lasted a couple of weeks. So tonight… was just liberating.”