Healthy Quintana in spotlight; Fujinami to return

March 1st, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Last spring, suffered a concerning rib injury that required bone graft surgery and kept him out until late July. This spring? He’s likely to emerge as the Mets’ Opening Day starter.

Although the Mets don’t intend to make any rotation announcements for another week or so, Quintana is the obvious choice for Opening Day as the only returning rotation member who’s guaranteed a job when camp breaks. On the back half of a two-year, $26 million contract, Quintana is coming off a second half that saw him produce a 3.57 ERA over 13 starts. He fared notably better than free-agent signing Luis Severino in 2022, and better overall than Sean Manaea (though Manaea, another incoming free agent, did produce a comparable second half.)

Yes, things can still change, but the Mets appear to have lined up their rotation the way they want it to look when the regular season begins. Quintana started Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Astros, with Severino, Manaea and Adrian Houser scheduled to pitch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The fifth starter competition, meanwhile, is in full swing behind those four.

“Tonight’s the first outing,” manager Carlos Mendoza said before Quintana’s start. “We’ll see how everything goes, and how they’re progressing -- their bullpens and all that. … We’ve got to see these guys against outside competition, see how they’re bouncing back.”

Quintana’s Grapefruit League debut was a rocky one, as he issued three walks while focusing on his sinker command against right-handed batters. But after his physical issues last spring, he was happy simply to be on the mound.

“It’s just really good to feel healthy,” Quintana said.

Kranick shelved

When Kodai Senga suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out for Opening Day, it left four obvious candidates to take his place in the rotation: Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi, José Buttó and Max Kranick. Now, the Mets are down to three.

Kranick has suffered a Grade 2 left hamstring strain that will sideline him for Opening Day. Pitching against the Nationals earlier this week, Kranick felt some cramping in his leg but came away from the outing without obvious issue. It wasn’t until the next day that some abnormal soreness prompted Kranick to say something to trainers. A subsequent MRI revealed the strain.

“I feel for the kid after battling Tommy John and working really hard to get back on the mound,” Mendoza said. “The two innings that we saw the other day, we were encouraged with his velo.”

The injury will prevent Kranick from participating in baseball activities for at least a week. Although he will keep his arm active to the extent that that’s possible, Kranick will need to restart his innings buildup from scratch once he’s recovered. As a result, the Mets already know that he’ll open the season on the IL.

One silver lining for team officials is that they won’t need to make a tough decision on Kranick at the end of camp. The right-hander was out of options, meaning the Mets would have had to pass him through waivers if he didn’t make the roster. Now, they’ll be able to keep him on the IL until he’s done making rehab starts, stretching out the timeframe they have to evaluate him.

A waiver claim from the Pirates earlier this year, Kranick made 11 appearances for them from 2021-22 before Tommy John surgery stalled his career.

As for that fifth starter’s competition …

Megill bolstered his resume Thursday with three shutout relief innings against a representative Astros lineup including José Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. He’s up to five innings of one-run ball this spring, with seven strikeouts.

“That’s what you want is to go against their A team,” Megill said.

Around the world

Reliever Shintaro Fujinami is due back in Mets camp this weekend after flying to Japan to address a personal issue. While in Japan, Fujinami also resolved the visa issue that had prevented him from being a full participant in camp before he left.

Once Fujinami returns, he will throw a series of bullpen sessions and live BPs before graduating to game action. Because he does not need to stretch out like a starter, Fujinami should be able to complete that progression before Opening Day.