Notes: Artificial crowd noise; Peterson sharp

July 15th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Michael Conforto ripped an RBI double down the right-field line and the Citi Field crowd roared. As Conforto pulled up at second base, the crowd noise hit another crescendo, before dying back down to its usual murmur.

The scene could have been from any number of Mets games in the past, if not for the fact that all the commotion was fake. For the first time on Wednesday, the Mets began experimenting with crowd noise piped in through the speaker system at Citi Field.

In the absence of fans this season, the Mets -- like most teams -- plan to engineer as much of the usual fan experience as they can. Prior to Opening Day, they will install cardboard cutouts of season-ticket holders and others in various seats at Citi Field. They also intend to pump in crowd noise on a regular basis -- including both cheers and boos -- as well as each player’s usual walk-up song.

The fake noise is not limited to big plays or at-bats. Even during down moments Wednesday, white noise droned into the ballpark, replicating the thousands of conversations that typically happen throughout a normal game.

As bizarre as it was, those Mets who pitched amid the noise paid it little heed.

“It’s one of those things where I don’t even hear the fans, I’m so focused,” reliever Jeurys Familia said through an interpreter. “My concentration on the mound is so high that the sound of the fans, it’s the last thing on my mind.”

“Once things get rolling, I don’t really hear much,” added starter David Peterson. “It was interesting to hear in between innings, but once the inning started, it was all about competing for me and it was irrelevant.”

The crowd noise continued well into the late afternoon, even long after both Mets intrasquad groups left the field.

Two relievers down
The Mets announced Wednesday that they have placed right-handed relievers Brad Brach and Jared Hughes on the injured list. The team did not provide a reason, but neither reliever has been in camp since it began earlier this month.

Major League Baseball has instituted a COVID-19 list this season, although clubs will not announce which players are placed on it due to privacy laws regarding individuals’ health. Players may address their status if they wish, though they are not required to do so. Merely being placed on an injured list without further explanation is not confirmation that a player has tested positive for COVID-19. For example, potential exposure to a person who has the virus can be sufficient cause.

There is no minimum or maximum length of stay on the COVID-19 list.

Brach, 34, returned to the Mets on a one-year deal this past offseason after making 16 effective appearances for them following his initial signing last August. Working with then-pitching coach Phil Regan, Brach transformed his cut fastball into his primary pitch, using it in tandem with his changeup to find success against both right- and left-handed batters.

Hughes, 35, signed with the Mets on a big league deal earlier this month. A nine-year veteran of the Pirates, Reds, Phillies and Brewers, Hughes had been in Astros camp during Spring Training but was released in mid-March.

One other player missing from Mets camp the past two days has been infielder Gordon Beckham. The Mets confirmed his absence, but as per team policy, did not provide a reason.

Next man up?
Should Jacob deGrom’s back tightness linger in what would be a worst-case scenario for the Mets, the team could need a sixth starter as soon as later this month. Even if deGrom recovers quickly, the odds of the Mets -- or any club -- lasting 60 games with only five starters are slim.

Enter David Peterson, who is jockeying for position among other sixth-starter candidates in one of the more intriguing competitions at Summer Camp. The Mets’ first-round Draft pick in 2017, Peterson threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s intrasquad game, striking out regulars Brandon Nimmo (swinging) and Conforto (looking).

“I’m ready when that call comes in,” Peterson said.

Manager Luis Rojas recently noted that the Mets have no plans to convert Peterson to bullpen work, meaning he will continue stretching out as a starter -- most likely at the club’s alternate training site in Brooklyn -- if everyone else in the rotation is healthy.

After struggling to the tune of a 4.54 ERA over the first three months last season at Double-A Binghamton, Peterson rebounded to post a 3.67 mark in July and August as he began increasing his slider usage in games. He also added velocity and now sits anywhere from 91-93 mph after topping out around 90 mph last season.

Peterson is one of at least four pitchers battling to be the Mets’ next man up in the event of injury, alongside Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt and Erasmo Ramírez.

“It’s a great opportunity to get invited into the 60-man pool and be here, get ramped up for this season," Peterson said. "But at the end of the day, the goal is ultimately to be up in the big leagues at some point. Whenever that day comes will be a beautiful day.”

A concerning moment unfolded in the middle of Wednesday’s intrasquad game, when reliever Chasen Shreve hit one of the Mets’ top prospects, Andrés Giménez, squarely with a pitch. Giménez fell to the ground and stayed there for several moments, but he eventually rose to his feet and shrugged off a trainer. He took his base and remained in the game.

Giménez, the Mets’ third-ranked prospect, has an outside chance to make the team in a bench role.