PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- On a relative scale, conditions at Clover Park on Tuesday were not ideal for generating adrenaline. As Jacob deGrom pitched in something approximating a baseball game for the first time this spring, players and coaches lingered behind a rectangular patch of netting. The stadium was
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- On a relative scale, conditions at Clover Park on Tuesday were not ideal for generating adrenaline. As Jacob deGrom pitched in something approximating a baseball game for the first time this spring, players and coaches lingered behind a rectangular patch of netting. The stadium was quiet enough that the hiss of deGrom’s pitches was clearly audible from dozens of feet away.
And yet deGrom, who many Mets call one of the most competitive people they have ever encountered, had little trouble finding the mental space he occupies throughout the summer. Throwing 30 pitches in a simulated game, deGrom attacked a group of hitters including Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario with purpose.
“Even to our guys, I don’t like giving up hits,” deGrom said. “It’s frustrating. So I don’t know if I’m hard on myself or really competitive. They’re trying to get work in, I’m trying to get work in. Their goal is to get a hit and mine’s to not give up hits. I think it’s just the competitive part of it.”
All told, deGrom allowed three hits in two “innings” -- two of them to Conforto. His competitive spirit kicked in again when Jed Lowrie hit a hot ground ball down the third-base line; from the pitcher’s mound, deGrom argued vociferously that the ball was foul.
“Those are tough hitters,” deGrom said. “Great guys to be around. This has been a fun spring -- everybody’s having fun and getting along great. Watching these guys play is impressive. When they stepped in the box, I didn’t want to give up hits to them.”
At this point in his career, coming off two consecutive National League Cy Young Awards, deGrom has distilled Spring Training into a science. By late February, his fastball is generally sharp. He spends the middle weeks of spring working his slider and changeup into similar form, as he did in Tuesday’s simulated game.
deGrom was eager to face Brandon Nimmo in particular, knowing how sharp Nimmo’s batting eye is. When the reigning Cy Young Award-winner threw a backdoor slider that fooled Nimmo, he received some vindication that he’s closing in on where he needs to be.
“Through most of my camps, fastball command’s good early on, and then it’s just getting the offspeed where I want it,” deGrom said. “That’s going to be the main work heading into Opening Day.”
That, and stretching out to the point that he can throw 100-plus pitches on Opening Day, March 26 against the Nationals. This year, deGrom plans to throw multiple bullpen sessions between spring starts, as he does during the regular season. He’ll next pitch Sunday against either the Nationals or Marlins in a split-squad.
Given his veteran status, deGrom did not have to ask the Mets to keep him off Tuesday’s five-hour, round-trip road trip across the state to Lakeland -- but he grinned when asked about the alternate assignment.
“I try to just do whatever’s on the schedule,” he said, laughing.
Back of the rotation
Although the Mets are considering alternative options for their fifth starter’s job, multiple sources said, Michael Wacha still sees this as an old-fashioned spring competition. Making his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday in a 9-6 loss to the Tigers, Wacha walked two batters but recovered to throw two shutout innings.
“They told me I was a starter, so that’s what I’m here for,” said Wacha, who has both starting and relief pitching incentives that can push the value of his one-year deal up to $10 million.
On paper, the Mets have six starters for five spots. While the team isn’t saying so publicly, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman are assured rotation jobs. Rick Porcello also appears to be a lock given his history as a durable starting pitcher. That leaves one spot for either Wacha or Matz, with the other presumably going to the bullpen.
But the Mets are at least internally discussing alternatives, including matchup-based starting assignments or the use of openers.
Syndergaard, who has a history of flashing triple-digit velocity in February, will make his spring debut when the Mets host the Astros in a 1:10 p.m. ET game at Clover Park on Wednesday. Many of the Mets' position player regulars should also appear in the game after taking Tuesday off.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.