Notes: Hand activated; deGrom not close

September 4th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- As a free agent last offseason, narrowed his options to two teams before making a decision. One was the Nationals, who ultimately signed him to a $10.5 million contract and then traded him to Toronto in July. The other was the Mets, who nearly claimed him off waivers in November before doing precisely that when the Blue Jays designated him for assignment earlier this week.

Perhaps, for Hand, becoming a Met was his destiny.

“It was a close one,” Hand said of his offseason decision. “I just felt like it was a better fit for me at the time, but I’m happy to be here now.”

Hand arrived at Nationals Park on Friday to meet the Mets, who intend to use him in middle relief as a complement to their other lefty reliever, Aaron Loup. Although Hand struggled in Toronto, producing a 7.27 ERA over 11 outings, his velocity and spin-rate numbers were not far removed from his previous career norms. According to Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, Hand’s primary issue was an inability to bury his slider, resulting in too many hanging breaking balls over the heart of the plate.

Immediately upon joining the Mets, Hand began working on that issue using cues given to him by Mets staffers. If Hand is able to make the correction, the Mets know, his ceiling remains high as a three-time All-Star who saved 104 games with a 2.70 ERA from 2016-20 with the Indians and Padres.

“I think he brings a lot of value here,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “This is a guy who’s been one of the best closers in baseball in the last couple of years. For us, it’s a luxury that he’s here. He can pitch in a different inning other than the ninth.”

Jake not close
Asked Friday where he was at in his road back from right elbow inflammation, Jacob deGrom quipped: “I’m in Washington.” He did not answer any other questions about his status before departing.

One Mets official said that deGrom, despite feeling good, is likely about 10 days away from advancing to bullpen sessions. He has been throwing off flat ground from 75 feet and must extend that to 120 before making it to the slope of a mound. That process should take deGrom into the third week of September; from there, he must throw multiple bullpen sessions and face live batters before he can even consider appearing in a game for the first time since July 7.

As such, Mets officials don’t expect deGrom to give them more than an outing or two at the end of the season, and even then, it’s likely only to be in abbreviated spurts. If the Mets are out of contention by that time, their incentive to push deGrom will diminish. And if the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner feels any discomfort along the way, they will abort his comeback.

In short: It’s certainly still possible for deGrom to return to the Mets this year, but unless they make the playoffs, it isn’t likely to be for more than a handful of innings.

Best wishes
The Mets placed outfielder Dominic Smith on the bereavement list on Friday, which cleared roster space for them to add Hand without making another move. Players on the bereavement list must miss a minimum of three games and a maximum of seven.

Roster machinations
Why exactly did the Mets call up prospect Khalil Lee for a single day when the team didn’t even have a game?

The reasoning went something like this: Due to an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, teams must expand their rosters to the maximum of 28 players on Sept. 1. Adding players at that time is no longer optional.

The Mets intended to use one of their extra spots on outfielder Albert Almora Jr. and the other on reliever Yennsy Díaz, who had been effective for them during previous callups. But because they optioned Díaz to Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 23, he wasn’t eligible for another call until Sept. 2. The Mets had to add someone in the interim.

Their choices were either to recall reliever Geoff Hartlieb, whom they would have then demoted and had unavailable for 10 days, or Lee. So team officials contacted the rookie outfielder, telling him they planned to call him up for a single day. Lee received a day of big league pay without ever leaving Syracuse.

Although Almora’s presence makes Lee unlikely to see much of New York this month, he’s put himself in the conversation for next year with a strong second half in the Minors, posting a .981 OPS for Syracuse in August.