Change it up: Stroman thrilled with new pitch

Almora goes deep; Nimmo gets work vs. lefty

March 2nd, 2021

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- After eight months of work, finally unveiled his secret weapon on Tuesday in the Mets’ 2-0 win over the Astros.

In two innings, Stroman threw more than a half-dozen split changeups -- a pitch he learned from Robert Gsellman when both were rehabbing injuries in Brooklyn last summer. The pitch gives Stroman, who has generally relied on fastballs, sinkers and sliders throughout his career, an added dimension to his repertoire.

“Man, I love it,” Stroman said. “That’s a new pitch for me. I’m still getting comfortable with it, but to see the results today, it’s extremely encouraging.”

Unlike a traditional changeup, Stroman’s split-change relies on pressure from his ring finger, which he places on the outer edge of the seam. Stroman has been working for months to perfect the pitch, but he couldn’t be sure about its effectiveness until he used it in games. Now that he has, Stroman is more confident than ever in his ability to use it this season.

Over the past four years, Stroman has thrown changeups only about 5 percent of the time. Tuesday, he threw his split-change on about one-quarter of his offerings, including one that induced a groundout from Astros outfielder Michael Brantley.

“You never know until you throw it against hitters,” Stroman said. “It can feel filthy, it can feel nasty, it can feel like the best pitch ever. But until you actually get out there and throw it in a game, and see how hitters react to it, I feel like you can’t actually consider that pitch a weapon. … After throwing it today, I feel like it’s a weapon.”

Muscling up
Among the most encouraging signs for the Mets in Tuesday’s game? , who is trying to make the team as a fifth outfielder, hit a solo homer off right-hander Carson LaRue

Almora rates as the best defensive outfielder on the Mets’ projected 26-man roster, but he struggled offensively last summer with just one extra-base hit. If he can rediscover some of the pop that allowed him to hit 12 home runs as recently as 2019, Almora will stand a better chance of making the roster. To that end, Almora has been working daily with hitting coach Chili Davis, who first met him when both were with the Cubs from 2017-18.

“At the plate, everything looks balanced,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “I know last year was a tough year, but I keep calling it an atypical season. Not everyone had a fair chance last year.”

Leading man
Unlike last year, when the Mets did not reveal their leadoff plans until late in Summer Camp, Rojas has acknowledged this spring that will lead off more often than not. Of greater question is whether Nimmo can retain that job even against left-handed pitchers, who held him to a .196/.316/.333 slash line in 2020.

Historically, the Mets have removed Nimmo from their lineup versus lefties, or at least slotted him near the bottom of it. The offseason additions of right-handed outfielders Kevin Pillar and Almora would also appear to limit Nimmo’s chances against lefties. But Nimmo, after reading about the practices of his childhood idol Todd Helton, decided to spend significant time this spring taking batting practice off left-handed pitchers. He hopes seeing those sorts of arm angles more regularly will give him the tools necessary to force his way into the lineup versus lefties.

“This is the perfect time to do that,” Nimmo said. “Spring Training is the perfect time for me to see as many lefties as I can.”

To that end, Nimmo relished his at-bat Tuesday against Astros lefty Framber Valdez, who retired him on a grounder back to the mound.

Who’s on first?
Prospect Mark Vientos, who had never played first base at any professional level until this spring, debuted at the position in the later innings of Tuesday’s game. The Mets want to see Vientos, who has played exclusively on the left side of the diamond in the past, increase his versatility as he continues adding muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame.