When I wrote about Dinelson Lamet‘s upcoming debut a couple of days ago, I noted that his biggest challenge would be Mets left fielder Michael Conforto. The reasons were pretty obvious: Conforto is friggin’ good at hitting, he’s been red hot, he makes his living by mashing righties, etc. And to compound things, Lamet has struggled big time against left-handed hitters throughout his career. It looked like a matchup from hell, at least for anyone rooting for the Padres rookie.
What happened last night was an eye opener for anyone throwing a little shade Lamet’s way, including myself. Let’s go at-bat by at-bat.
Round 1—First inning
There are strikeouts and then there are STRIKEOUTS. This is the latter. Here’s the first pitch of Lamet’s big-league career:
Hello. That’s just a great pitch, 95 and just off the plate. Lamet came back with a well located fastball on the black, inside, for pitch No. 2, and Conforto fouled it off. Then came this:
That’s what a 98 (almost 99) mph fastball looks like.
Call it adrenaline or what have you, but that was Lamet’s fastest pitch of the game, a Statcast-measured 98.7. Lamet would go on to hit 98-plus three other times, and he averaged 95.8 with the four-seamer on the night. For someone who was supposed to sit in the mid-90s, there was a little extra gas in Lamet’s arm last night, at least when he needed it.
That’s the no BS way of attacking Conforto*. Three good fastballs and see ya later.
*For what it’s worth, Conforto only swings through seven percent of the heaters he sees from righties.
Round 2—Third inning
Lamet started Conforto with a fastball just high for ball one. His next pitch:
What pitch is that? Statcast called it a four-seamer, MLB Gameday called it a changeup, and Don Orsillo called it a two-seamer. It looks like a change, but at 94, it seems to fast to be one. Most changeups come in a good seven or eight mph slower than the fastball. Whatever it was, it was pretty nasty. After another fastball, Lamet put Conforto away:
That isn’t exactly the ideal location for a slider, as you can see from Austin Hedges‘ set-up. Then again, Lamet was up 1-2 in the count and he he hadn’t shown Conforto the slider yet, so it worked. That’s part of the value in getting ahead of hitters, in attacking the zone early in the count. It gives the pitcher the flexibility to do what he wants, and it leaves the hitter vulnerable and having to protect the plate. Sometimes even mistakes are effective.
Lamet got five whiffs on 26 sliders last night, which isn’t otherworldly or anything but ain’t too bad for a debut either. He also got hitters to swing at just over 50 percent of them.
Round 3—Fifth Inning
We’re two encounters in and Lamet has fed Conforto a steady diet of fastballs, at least five of his seven offerings, depending on how you classify the Mystery Pitch. In this at-bat, a seven-pitch battle, Conforto wouldn’t see a single fastball. Here’s a first pitch slider:
This is more of a get-me-over slider, and coming on the first pitch of the at-bat, it’s one you hope Conforto doesn’t swing at. Again, the location’s not great, but it works, in theory (and practice, here), because Conforto’s not expecting it. Here’s the second pitch of the AB:
That’s definitely a changeup, and it’s filthy. Note that Lamet puts it exactly where Hedges wanted it. The big question involving Lamet coming into last night was whether or not he’d be able to handle lefties. The change is a big part of that. It’s arguably his third-best pitch, but it certainly didn’t look that way last night. If Lamet is able to command his change like this with consistency, he’ll have an added weapon to take on lefties, and he might be able to mow through a lineup multiple times on the regular.
After that change, Lamet went change (ball, in dirt), slider (fouled off), slider (way high), changeup (ball, inside), then this:
It’s another change that Conforto swings through, his fifth swinging miss of the game against Lamet. And look at the count. It’s full, and if Lamet walks Conforto here, he loads the bases with one out for the middle of the order. Decent chance he doesn’t even finish the inning. Again, it’s perfectly located. In this spot, you’ve almost gotta throw it for a strike, or at least get it close enough to entice a swing. Lamet put it right at the bottom of the zone, maybe an inch or two off where you’d put it if it had an on-board location system:
As David Jay noted at MadFriars, Lamet made strides with the changeup this year at El Paso. Those strides clearly paid off last night, to a degree nobody was anticipating. Overall, Lamet’s dominance of the Mets last night, and of Conforto in particular, showed that his minor-league performance wasn’t a mirage. Really, once you consider the pitch counts and walks at Triple-A, Lamet actually performed better than you’d expect given his minor-league numbers.
Of course, we saw Good Lamet last night. There will likely be struggles to follow, eventually, like there are for most any young major leaguer. The command will drift in and out; the fastball will suddenly become hittable; the feel for the change will come and go.
There’s a chance, once the dust clears, that Lamet is just a mid-rotation type—in fact, that’d be a good result. There’s also a chance he’s more of a No. 4 or No. 5 guy, on a good team, because that’s just how these things tend to work out. There’s even a shot that Lamet ultimately ends up in the bullpen, as Bryant envisioned last year (that’s a great write-up, by the way).
Right now, though, we don’t even have to squint and dream that much. He’s got one big-league start in him and it was tremendous. Tempered expectations are great and all, but let’s live a little. There’s a chance Lamet is just a flat-out stud, so we’ll run with that until shown otherwise.