MIAMI — Kodai Senga struck out eight in his major league debut, wearing a glove with an image of a ghost and a pitchfork in reference to his “ghost forkball,” leading the New York Mets over the Miami Marlins 5-1.
The 30-year-old right-hander agreed to a $75 million, five-year contract after going 87-44 with a 2.59 ERA in 11 seasons with the Pacific League’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. He overcame a difficult first inning and allowed one run, three hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings.
“First inning, definitely a lot of nerves,” Senga said through a translator. “My legs felt like a ghost. Once I got into a little bit of a pinch, I started to settle down and calm myself down.”
Senga averaged 96.8 mph with 32 fastballs – the fastest 99 mph – and threw 26 forkballs, 18 sweepers and 12 cutters. His eight strikeouts tied Kenshin Kawakami and Masahiro Tanaka for the fourth-most by a Japanese pitcher in a MLB debut, trailing only Kazuhisa Ishii and Daisuke Matsuzaka (10 each), and Hideki Irabu (nine).
“It was a gradual thing, more step by step,” Senga said. “I got more used to the moment. A lot of guys kept pushing my back, giving me words of confidence.”
Senga’s day ended on his 88th pitch, a strikeout of Jazz Chisholm Jr. leading off the sixth. The large contingent of Mets fans at loan Depot park cheered Senga while he returned to the dugout.
Dennis Santana, John Curtiss and Stephen Nogosek completed a four-hitter.
Tommy Pham had three hits and three RBIs, finishing a triple shy of the cycle as the Mets won for the third time in the four-game opening series.
Pham, who has dealt with a cornea thinning condition since 2008, said he was fitted with new set of contact lenses on Friday.
“I feel I’m seeing the ball better,” Pham said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say my eye doctor here fine tuned my lenses for me. I felt everything was different in a good way.”
Trevor Rogers (0-1) gave up four runs, four hits, two walks and two hit batters in 4 1/3 innings.
After four-pitch walks in the first to Pete Alonso and Mark Canha loaded the bases, Jeff McNeil hit a dribbler between the mound and first. Rogers flipped the ball past first baseman Yuli Gurriel as two runs scored.
“Just really amped up that first inning,” Rogers said. “Had a tough time really getting my heart rate under control. Kind of got my command out of whack. Really just got to clean that up.”
Luis Arraez had three multi-hit games in the series for the Marlins. The reigning AL batting champion, acquired in an off-season trade, is hitting .563 at a 9-for-16 clip to start the season. The rest of the team is 20-for-111 for a .180 average.
Senga labored through a 36-pitch bottom half as Miami’s first five batters reached and narrowed the deficit on Jorge Soler’s RBI double. But Senga escaped a bases loaded jam by striking out Gurriel and Jesús Sánchez, then retiring Jon Berti on a line drive to right.
“He started getting command of some pitches, getting some counts in his favor and making them rush to get to the fastball,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said of Senga’s adjustment. “That opened up a lot of avenues for him.”
Pham hit his first homer for the Mets, a two-run drive in the fifth and had an RBI double in the seventh when his sinking line drive to center drive eluded a diving Chisholm.
TAKING TIME Senga and Miami pitcher Huascar Brazoban were cited for pitch clock violations along with Marlins batter Avisaíl García.
TAKING TWO FOR THE TEAM
Tim Locastro was hit by pitches leading off the fifth and seventh. He scored both times in front of Pham’s homer and double.
DON’T LEAVE YET
García headed to the dugout apparently thinking he had swung and missed for the third strike on a full-count in the first. But instead of becoming Senga’s first major league strikeout, García was told his swing had tipped the mitt of catcher Tomás Nido. García took the next pitch and reached on a walk.
Mets: OF Brandon Nimmo was given most of the game off until he pinch hit in the ninth and remained as a defensive replacement. Pham started in center and hit leadoff against the left-handed Rogers.
Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco will start the opener of a three-game series at Milwaukee on Monday while the Brewers will go with RHP Freddy Peralta.
Marlins: Off-season free agent acquisition RHP Johnny Cueto makes his Miami debut in the opener of a three-game home set against Minnesota. RHP Tyler Mahle will start for the Twins.