MESA, Ariz. -- Strike one is indeed the best pitch one can throw. Just ask Mets right-hander Mike Vasil.
Over his first two Arizona Fall League starts, the Mets’ No. 11 prospect struggled to get ahead of hitters, a big reason why he allowed five earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. He came into Friday’s start against the Mesa Solar Sox hoping to reverse that trend and succeeded, tossing four shutout innings as his Peoria Javelinas blanked Mesa, 4-0.
“The biggest thing today after the first two outings is really trust myself, trust my stuff,” Vasil said. “Maybe make a little mental adjustment here and there, maybe a little mechanical tweak. But that’s what it really comes down to, not shying away from hitters, go 0-1 and that’s what I really did today that I felt I did well.”
Vasil faced 17 batters on Friday and threw a first-pitch strike to 13 of them. As a result, he retired the first seven hitters he faced and finished with three hits and two walks allowed, while he struck out five. The biggest difference might have been having that mindset right from the get-go. In his first two outings this Fall, Vasil was particularly inconsistent in his first inning of work and his intent was to not take as long to settle into a rhythm.
“The first couple of outings, I’d say the first inning is when stuff started to get a little weird, energy’s going, and then I settled down,” Vasil said. “Today, what I was really focused on was getting ahead, getting 0-1, trust my stuff. I think when you do that, you always see a pattern in baseball, most of the time, it works out for you.”
The Mets’ eighth-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2021, Vasil pitched across two levels of A ball in his first full season. And while his stuff has ticked up -- he was routinely touching 95-96 mph on Friday -- he’s yet to really face this level of competition. It’s a challenge he’s loving, but it can also make the whole trusting your stuff and go right after hitters thing a little tougher.
“It is something I’m still getting used to,” Vasil said. “You know and you hear about the better hitters… then I come here and it’s the best of the best of the hitters. You really have to understand that at the end of the day, that’s how you end up pitching. You watch the best pitchers out there, you watch the Scherzers of the world, you watch the Gerrit Coles, they’re ahead in the count and they have elite stuff, but there comes a point where you have to trust your own as well.”
He was really trusting that mid-90s fastball on Friday. The more he can do that, the more he can then use his three secondary pitches to complement it.
“With the heater, the more composed I am, the better spin, the better movement and ride I get on that,” Vasil said. “With the split-change, the slider and the curveball, it’s about being controlled, compact and being able to get down the mound and let my arm catch up. When I do that mechanically, all my stuff takes a tick up.”
Peoria provided all the offense Vasil and the three relievers who put zeroes up behind him (the Padres’ Alek Jacob, Mason Hickman and Cade Smith of the Guardians) would need in the top of the first. Padres outfielder Tirso Ornelas lined a double to right that scored his organization-mate Jackson Merrill, who had singled. Mariners infielder Jose Caballero doubled in a run in the third and a pair of sacrifice flies in the sixth closed out the scoring.
Vasil only truly got into trouble in the fourth. Yankees phenom Jasson Domínguez led off the inning with a double and the bases were loaded after A’s outfielder Lawrence Butler and Marlins outfielder Victor Mesa Jr. drew walks. It looked like Mesa would get on the board when Yankees first baseman T.J. Rumfield sent a line drive to center fielder. But Mets center fielder Brandon McIlwain got a terrific jump, made a diving play and got up to fire a strike home to keep Domínguez from tagging and scoring.
“I pointed at B-Mac,” an appreciative Vasil said. “He’s a great guy, a great athlete. He made that play, it was huge. We love to see it. When your defense helps you out, it’s always a good day.”