Notes: deGrom throws bullpen session

July 17th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Jacob deGrom took a tangible step forward Friday in his quest to pitch on Opening Day, throwing a bullpen session at Citi Field.

Three days after leaving a start early due to muscle tightness in his back, deGrom played catch on the outfield grass, before moving into the bullpen for a 17-pitch session. The two-time reigning Cy Young Award winner is next scheduled to throw a simulated game Sunday at Citi Field, in advance of his Opening Day start Thursday against the Braves.

“It felt like a regular side for him,” manager Luis Rojas said of Friday’s session. “The same feeling throwing the ball as usual.”

Although deGrom indicated earlier this week that he hoped to face the Yankees in an exhibition game Sunday, the Mets prefer the idea of a simulated game in which they can control the environment. In that fashion, they hope to stretch him out to 50-60 pitches, which would allow him to throw up to 85 on Opening Day.

“We want him to reach that pitch count, obviously, especially after going that one inning when he pulled out,” Rojas said, referring to deGrom’s last intrasquad start. “So him going to that sim game will help him reach that mark.”

The downside is that deGrom will take the mound for Opening Day not having seen an opposing team’s batters in live game action since March, though many pitchers around baseball are facing the same issue. If anyone can adjust, it is deGrom, who has posted a 2.05 ERA with 524 strikeouts over 421 innings the past two seasons.

New vantage
Throughout Friday’s morning workout, construction workers labored in the space above the home dugout at Citi Field, installing a large pavilion on top of the stands there. The Mets plan to use it as a staging area for extra players to watch games, rather than crowd into the dugout with the rest of their teammates.

“Reinforcing social distancing,” Rojas said. “They can go up there and maintain the distancing and fulfill protocols. I saw it this morning. It looks good out there to keep the guys spaced out throughout the game.”

Rojas has not yet discussed with his staff exactly which players will sit in the pavilion each night, or if that group will include bench players who could conceivably enter the game. He said he will have a better feel after the Mets try out the system this weekend against the Yankees.

“Hopefully,” he said, “it doesn’t get to that point where we’re scrambling out of the stands to get a guy into the game.”

Some Mets players have an added interest in being in the stands. J.D. Davis said that he, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith have considered purchasing cardboard cutouts of each other to place alongside those of season ticketholders.

“Just buy up maybe five or six and just have them around, or even play a 'Where’s Waldo' game around the seats just to have something to do every single day,” Davis said, laughing. “That’s definitely a hot topic right now, just to buy up some cutouts and see where we can put them and stage them, that way we can put them on TV if there are any embarrassing photos. That would be funny.”

Subway Series (sort of)
The Mets are scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games against the Yankees this weekend as they ramp up for the season. Rick Porcello will start Saturday’s 7:10 p.m. ET game at Citi Field, followed by fellow right-hander Corey Oswalt at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. The exhibition "series" will give the Mets a dress rehearsal mere days before next week’s opener.

Although deGrom will not play, Yoenis Céspedes is scheduled to appear in both games -- one as a designated hitter, one as a left fielder.

“We’re definitely looking forward to these two games against the Yankees,” Rojas said. “I think it will do great ramping up the intensity, ramping up the competitiveness of the team, of the guys, looking toward the opening of the season.”

The games also give the Mets some early experience against Yankees pitchers, in advance of seeing their interborough rivals six times during the season.

“These are free looks at these guys,” pitcher Michael Wacha said. “[We’ll] take advantage of these exhibition games, and try to take little bits and pieces from here and there, and try to use them to our advantage.”