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WASHINGTON — Through a largely successful rookie season in 2021, Tylor Megill totaled 1,554 pitches.
None of them could match the top velocity of his 2022 debut.
In his first start of the season, the second-year Mets starter threw seven pitches faster than the hardest of his prior season. He had topped out at 97.6 mph in 2021. On Thursday, his fastball averaged 96.2 mph and buzzed 99.1 mph when he needed to reach back, blazing his way into a potentially important role on the team.
When camp opened, Megill represented rotation depth, thrown into the same just-in-case bucket as David Peterson. With Jacob deGrom out possibly until June and the back of the Mets’ rotation filled with questions — it is hard to predict what Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco can give — Megill’s suddenly high-octane arm may be among the most important on a staff that includes Max Scherzer.
If last year — in which he pitched to a 4.52 ERA in 89 ²/₃ innings, a solid option who tired as the season went on — was Megill announcing himself, he used a trumpet during the Mets’ Opening Night win at Nationals Park.
“That was the best stuff that I’ve seen from him,” said James McCann, who caught Megill often last season and in Game 1. “I know he put a lot of work in this offseason, but everything — I mean everything — was good [Thursday] night.
“That’s some of the best sliders I’ve seen from him. Changeup was good. Fastball was good, location was good. I mean, it was really good.”
Everything looked different from Megill, even beyond the velocity. His slider had more bite: Washington batters swung at eight and whiffed five times. He showed a renewed confidence in his changeup, which he used on a 2-0 count to Nelson Cruz with runners on the corners, an offering the slugger swung through.
“Put yourself in Nellie’s shoes,” manager Buck Showalter said before the Mets’ 7-3 win over the Nationals. “This young man just threw me a 2-0 changeup. Now what am I looking for?”
The Mets are looking for a starter to step up into a rotation that could not make it to Opening Day before issues struck, and they might have found one.
Megill was best in his biggest moments. Prior to the Cruz at-bat in the third inning, he wanted to pitch to, and not around, Juan Soto with two runners on. In a 2-2 count, Megill reached back and hit 97.9 mph, throwing it past perhaps baseball’s best hitter.
“He’s probably one of the more fun at-bats to pitch to,” said Megill, who took a moment to stare away from the field, toward the center-field wall, after getting his biggest out of the night.
Showalter said the reward for Megill will be another start, and the Mets figure to give him plenty of leash without a ton of options and with a ceiling that Megill propped up further.
The question will become whether Megill, who is not fully built up, can hold his upticks in velocity and stuff for 100 pitches, rather than the 68 he threw in shutting out the Nationals through five innings.
He might not need to, McCann said. If he has the heat in his arsenal when he needs it, that should be good enough to record important outs.
“I remember catching [Justin] Verlander — he’d be 92 to 94 [mph] in the first couple of innings,” McCann, a former Tiger, told The Post. “All of a sudden you’d get runners in scoring position, he’d pop in 97, 98.
“So I think it is sustainable in the sense that he doesn’t need to pitch at 98 every single pitch. But you can use what you need to use when you need to. … I think that as [Megill] matures, he’ll understand the difference between blowing it out early and not having anything late to using it when you need it.”
Megill, 26, who came out of nowhere to pitch significant innings for the Mets last season, again has returned to the team as a different pitcher.
If the stuff persists, this new pitcher could be a key, under-the-radar addition after an offseason of big Mets splashes.