'Super excited' Bregman makes spring debut

March 16th, 2021

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Nothing like getting to face two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets in your first game action in nearly five months. That was OK with Astros third baseman , who made his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday afternoon after missing the first 13 games with a sore left hamstring.

Bregman went 0-for-3 with three flyouts to center field in the Astros’ 8-3 loss to the Mets at Clover Park, including a 101 mph laser against deGrom in the fourth that Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo caught near the top of the right-center-field wall. Bregman faced deGrom twice and Dellin Betances once before leaving the game in the sixth.

“I feel great,” Bregman said. “Just super excited to be back to playing baseball and be back with the guys. [deGrom] is a stud. He has serious stuff and he also locates extremely well. It was fun getting to compete against him today and then facing Betances, who’s nasty. … It was good to get back into game action against such great pitching.”

Astros manager Dusty Baker said Bregman will be held out of Wednesday’s game as a precaution. The Astros are off Thursday, so it’s likely Bregman’s next game action will be Friday against the Nationals.

Batting third Tuesday, Bregman came up in the first inning and watched two 101 mph fastballs from deGrom before lining a 100 mph pitch to center field for an out. In his next at-bat in the fourth, Bregman got four more fastballs at 97, 98, 98 and 98 mph, the latter of which he hit to deep right-center field. Nimmo’s catch robbed Bregman of extra bases, and perhaps a homer.

“I was happy to square up a baseball, stay into it and stay through it,” Bregman said. “He made a great play out there.”

In his final at-bat, against Betances to lead off the sixth, Bregman walloped the fifth pitch of the at-bat into center field at 91.3 mph. The mix of seeing straight heat from deGrom and some breaking pitches from Betances made for a good day for Bregman, who didn’t get any balls hit to him on defense.

“deGrom’s fastball is elite,” he said. “I mean, it explodes out of his hand. It was great to see some good velo, and Betances has one of the best breaking balls in the game, so it was good to see that. But yeah, all around I felt good. Got to see a lot of good pitching today, and looking forward to doing that whenever my next opportunity is.”

Bregman said last month he put on 27 pounds in the offseason to help him hold his position better during his swing. Coming off a season in which he hit .242/.350/.451 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 42 games, he said Tuesday he was seeing the ball well and said staying closed on his swing is the key.

“We’ve been able to maintain probably 95% of that weight,” Bregman said. “I feel like I’m in a good spot physically and I feel like I’m able to stay in my legs at the plate.”

Throughout the spring, Bregman had dozens of at-bats against live pitching on the back fields in West Palm Beach, and the plan all along was to bring him along slowly after he felt soreness in his hamstring running sprints in January. Bregman hopes to finish the spring strong to set himself up for a quick start.

Bregman started his career in a 2-for-38 slump in 2016. In his first full season in ’17, he slashed .256/.338/.419 with 27 RBIs in 84 games in the first half and .315/.367/.536 with 44 RBIs in 71 games in the second half. In '18, he was 7-for-40 with no homers and three RBIs in his first 11 games and rebounded to lead the club in nearly every offensive category. In '19, he was 1-for-15 before making a run for AL MVP by slashing .296/.423/.592 with 41 homers, 119 walks and 112 RBIs.

He never quite got in a groove in last year’s shortened season after starting 4-for-23.

“I think the biggest thing for me is just mechanically,” Bregman said. “When I’m mechanically sound, I feel confident that I’m going to go up there and put a good swing on the baseball. I think just making sure to get the mechanics right here in Spring Training will help me get off to a great start this year.”