Ahead of '22 debut, deGrom's 'ultimate goal' is a Mets World Series 

After a 'long haul' of rehab, New York ace to make 1st start in 13 months

July 31st, 2022

MIAMI -- When takes the mound on Tuesday for his first start in nearly 13 months, the right-hander said it is going to feel like his Major League debut. His absence from the biggest stage has changed his perspective on it.

“It’s just how much you miss the game,” deGrom said. “Every day you’re able to put this uniform on, you’re thankful for it. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go out there and compete. I’m ready. This team’s exciting. I’m ready to help these guys win.”

Following deGrom’s bullpen session this weekend, manager Buck Showalter confirmed that deGrom will come off the injured list to start Tuesday in Washington. The Mets intend to greet the Nationals with a rotation of Max Scherzer, deGrom and Chris Bassitt, in that order, finally unleashing the full might of one of the game’s most fearsome pitching staffs.

For deGrom, who missed the entire first half of the season due to a stress reaction in his scapula and the second half of last season with an inflamed right elbow, it’s been a long time coming. This will be deGrom’s first start since July 7, 2021.

“I have full expectation that we’re going to see a normal Jake,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “Maybe because he hasn’t pitched in over a year, there’s a few more balls in play. But then once he kind of calibrates back to a Major League outing and the stress and stuff, it’s going to be Jake.”

For now, the Mets will keep a close watch on deGrom, limiting him to an absolute maximum of six innings and around 80 pitches in his first start. Based on game flow and stress levels, deGrom could go as few as four innings and 60 pitches in his debut.

From there, the Mets intend to build him up to a full starter’s workload. The hope is that deGrom can start every fifth or sixth day for the rest of the season, and be back to full strength long before October arrives.

“The ultimate goal is to win a World Series,” deGrom said. “Watching these guys go out there and compete has been fun, but it’s a lot more fun to go out there and compete with them.”

Until deGrom actually does prove his health over the next two months, questions will linger regarding his ability to remain on the field. Since 2020, various back, lat, elbow and shoulder problems have routinely undermined the two-time Cy Young Award winner, limiting him (partially due to the pandemic as well) to 160 innings in three seasons.

While rehabbing from his latest ailment, deGrom studied video of his 2018-19 mechanics in the hopes of replicating them. He spoke to former big leaguer Brandon McCarthy, who suffered a similar injury early in his career. This spring, deGrom believes he was “loading up too fast” in his delivery and falling off toward first base during his follow-through. He corrected those issues while simultaneously working to strengthen his shoulder, so that he can more safely decelerate his arm when throwing 101-mph pitches.

“You definitely need to have good brakes back there,” deGrom said.

That type of velocity likely isn’t going away for deGrom, despite an intentional effort to dial his fastball back to the upper 90s during his final rehab start. When deGrom is pitching with sound mechanics, he believes, he can reach triple digits on the radar gun without putting his arm at risk. That is how he won consecutive Cy Young Awards in 2018-19, producing a 2.05 ERA over that stretch.

Regardless of whether he returns to such levels of excellence, deGrom intends to opt out of the final guaranteed season and $32.5 million on his contract in search of a more lucrative deal this winter. That won’t preclude him from returning to the Mets in 2023, but it does mean there’s a chance this could be his final act in New York.

deGrom intends to be healthy for it.

“I think we all know what he’s capable of,” manager Buck Showalter said. “What’s a better word than ‘curiosity?’ It’s not even anxiety. More than anything, I’m feeling for him, what emotions he’s probably going through. It’s been a long haul for him. I know how hard he’s worked and how frustrating it’s been for him. The heck with us. It’s about how frustrating it’s been for him, because you know how much he likes to compete and pitch.”