Marte homers in spring debut; Verlander K's 5 Astros 

March 11th, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The uninitiated might never have realized that Friday marked 's first game action since undergoing groin surgery in November. For the Mets’ starting right fielder, rust was nonexistent. A slow start was unimaginable.

Marte doubled in his first Grapefruit League at-bat and homered in his next, finishing 2-for-2 and playing four innings in right in a 7-2 win over the Astros.

“When it comes to the body, strengthening the body is the most important part for us,” Marte said through an interpreter. “To be able to make those small achievements as we go throughout camp, that’s the most important part for me.”

Physically, 2022 was a challenge for Marte, who missed time early due to groin and quadriceps issues, then nearly all of September because of a fractured right middle finger. Although Marte was able to make it back for the Mets’ Wild Card Series against the Padres, he admits now that he played at far less than 100%. In addition to his finger issue, Marte was dealing with midsection discomfort stemming from separated tendons in his groin area.

After the season, the 34-year-old Marte underwent surgery to correct the issue, with no guarantees he would be ready for Opening Day. The Mets eased him into spring drills, holding Marte out of the first two weeks of games while giving him at-bats on the back fields. But if there was any doubt as to Marte’s ability to impact the team, he erased it with his performance on Friday. Marte’s double down the left-field line had an exit velocity of 103.5 mph. His two-run homer came off the bat at 106.8.

Afterward, Marte said he’s “still getting that timing” and not yet at top form. But with nearly three weeks remaining until the start of the regular season, he appears to have settled most remaining doubts.

“For Opening Day, I’ll be at 100%,” Marte said. “Now that I’ve already started playing, I know that I’m starting to ramp up. It’s slow. I’m taking it day-by-day. But as I get stronger, as my body gets stronger throughout the next couple of weeks, I should be ready for Opening Day at 100%.”

Remember me?
Before moving from the Tigers to the Astros in a midseason trade in 2017, faced Alex Bregman as an opponent 10 times, retiring him on all 10 occasions. The two subsequently became teammates, establishing a good-natured back-and-forth about their brief history as adversaries.

Friday, Bregman finally received another crack at Verlander, going 0-for-2.

“It was fun -- a lot of fun,” Verlander said. “Bregman’s given me a lot of crap over the years because I got him out a few times when he was a rookie, and then ever since then we haven’t faced each other. So it was fun to face each other again. He’s such a great hitter.”

Although spring exhibitions tend to lack the emotion of regular-season reunions, Verlander enjoyed the opportunity to pitch against some of his former Astros friends. Only a few are still around from the group’s first title in 2017.

“That’s a long time in professional sports,” Verlander said. “You don’t really keep the band together for that long. I guess I’ve been around long enough to know that that’s just natural, that’s the way things go. Guys kind of move on.”

Verlander is a prime example, signing a two-year, $86.6 million contract last offseason to join the Mets. Making his second Grapefruit League outing on Friday, he struck out five over 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball. The Mets have yet to make an official announcement about their season-opening rotation, but Verlander appears lined up to pitch Game 2 behind .

Camp battles
Keep an eye on for one of New York’s three open bullpen spots. The former Giants and Phillies right-hander hit 99 mph on the radar gun Friday, throwing his fourth scoreless outing of spring. Coonrod is fully healthy after missing much of last year due to a partially torn rotator cuff.

The Mets have five bullpen jobs written in ink for Edwin Díaz, Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, Brooks Raley and Drew Smith. That leaves three open spots for a host of others, with Coonrod, John Curtiss, Tommy Hunter and Stephen Nogosek emerging as early favorites.