PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Around mid-October, sitting at home with the Major League Baseball playoffs still in full swing, Jacob deGrom decided he had rested long enough. He grabbed a glove and placed a request for his lifelong catch partner -- his father, Tony -- to meet up and start working toward a National League Cy Young Award defense.
For years, deGrom worked to perfect the mechanics that allowed him, last season, to become baseball's best pitcher. So as much as he craved rest after throwing a career-high 217 innings, deGrom considered it more important to keep his muscle memory locked. He began playing catch with his father twice per week, eventually ramping back up to the level he demonstrated Sunday: On the first pitch of his Grapefruit League debut, deGrom hit 97 mph.
He sat at that velocity throughout his lone inning in the Mets' 10-1 loss to the Astros at First Data Field, allowing a run on two hits. Afterward, he joked about jeopardizing his push for the Grapefruit League ERA title, his 9.00 mark a bit higher than the 1.70 he posted last season.
"I've got some work to do," deGrom said, laughing.
Like most pitchers who enter Spring Training hoping to improve upon what they did last season, deGrom wants to be better -- even if he doesn't quite know how. Asked Sunday what he can do to achieve that goal, deGrom paused for a long while before saying, "Whew, that's tough. Looking back, it was kind of a crazy year."
Another long pause.
"I guess control the running game?"
Translation: There's not much deGrom can realistically refine, coming off statistically one of the best pitcher seasons of the past half-century. But that still won't stop him from trying.
"We tell him to go out there and pitch better than he did," manager Mickey Callaway said. "You always want to improve, right?"
For deGrom, mechanics are key. Working with pitching coach Dave Eiland last summer, deGrom hit a technical groove unlike anything he had previously experienced in his life. His pitching motion was smooth, fluid. Just as importantly, he repeated it delivery after delivery, inning after inning, week after week. Such consistency manifested itself in deGrom's records for consecutive quality starts, and consecutive outings of three runs or fewer.
His desire to freeze those mechanics in time was why deGrom began throwing early this offseason -- even if such a task is, in his manager's words, "almost impossible."
"You're not just going to come into camp probably ever and just feel lights-out," Callaway said. "He looked pretty good to me today. The ball's coming out great. He's throwing 97, which scares me. But he's throwing strikes. You don't see that very often where a guy just comes in and looks exactly like he did, just because you have had a lot of time off. The good thing is we see all of the same things we saw in Spring Training early last year. He's poised to go out there and dominate again."
For deGrom, dominance has become a relative term. Statistically speaking, he could fare far worse in 2019 and still win another Cy Young.
He'll just need to brush up that spring ERA first.
"I want to be able to repeat what I did last year," deGrom said. "That's going to be tough to do. But the way I'm looking at it, hey, it's a new year. Just prepare like you did last year and go out there, and compete for this team. Go out there and give 100 percent and control what I can control."