Marte feels like himself in first game since August

February 28th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- So limited was Starling Marte last season, he says now, that he feels like he went two years without really playing. Although Marte did manage to take the field for 86 games in 2023, his recovery from groin surgery was a limiting factor. Marte simply was not the player he always had been.

Wednesday, Marte took a Major League field for the first time since August, feeling like himself for the first time in far longer.

“I want to reintroduce myself to the player I’ve always been,” he said afterward through an interpreter.

For Marte, the actual 3-0 win over the Cardinals proved relatively uneventful, as he went 0-for-2 at the plate and did not see a defensive chance during three innings in right field. That was hardly the point. The point was that Wednesday’s appearance represented a clear step forward for Marte, who didn’t appear in a Grapefruit League game last year until March 10.

“I came to play,” Marte said. “I came to play hard. All the at-bats that I end up taking, I want to take them with the actual intent.”

Because Marte is 35 years old and has not completed a full, healthy season since 2015, plenty of external doubt exists that he can replicate his past successes, which included a .292/.347/.468 slash line over 118 games as recently as 2022. Internally, Marte shares none of that skepticism. Not only does he believe he’s healthy and capable of his old feats of strength, but he intends to run frequently on the basepaths and man right field every day because “that’s the type of player that I am.”

New Mets manager Carlos Mendoza agrees, insisting that Marte has no limitations. If Marte stays healthy, Mendoza added, he profiles as a top-third-of-the-order hitter.

And while Marte cannot prove his health in a day, Wednesday marked an important first step.

“Right now, I feel comfortable with my body,” he said. “I came into camp ready to go. I’ll be able to steal bases and play right field the way that you guys have seen me play in the past.”

Fielding his position
For the first time since his operation nearly a full year ago, Edwin Díaz fielded his position during PFP drills on Tuesday afternoon. Some rust was apparent, as Díaz moved deliberately and fired one ball into a fence beyond first base. But this was more about Díaz testing his surgically repaired right knee than the actual results of the drill. Mets officials considered it a notable step forward for Díaz, who has thrown multiple live batting practice sessions already.

“That’s pretty much what he needs to do now before we put him in games,” Mendoza said. “Overall, [he’s] progressing well, and we like what we’re seeing.”

Díaz expects to make his Grapefruit League debut in about a week, at some point after the Mets’ off-day on Monday. He’s still due to throw at least one more live BP session and participate in a backfields game before that time.

Bouncing around
About three weeks ago, as Kolton Ingram was preparing to leave Atlanta for Spring Training in Arizona, the Angels designated him for assignment. That surprised Ingram, a reliever, but he quickly found a silver lining: several days later, the Tigers -- the team that initially drafted Ingram back in 2019 -- claimed him. Rather than make a 27-hour drive to Arizona, Ingram pointed his car south for a seven-hour journey to Lakeland, Fla.

Fifteen days later, the Tigers DFA’d him. Ingram drove back to Atlanta, waited, received a call that the Mets had claimed him, then drove another eight hours down to Port St. Lucie.

“It’s been a little bit of a ping-pong journey,” he said.

On Florida’s Treasure Coast, Ingram hopes he’s finally found his home for a while. The left-hander is intriguing to the Mets due to a five-pitch mix that’s helped him strike out 11.1 batters per nine innings over his career in the Minors. But he’s also walked 3.9 batters per nine, and he issued five free passes over 5 1/3 innings during a brief Major League stint last season.

Ingram’s advice to himself? “Loosen up a little bit.”

“I was a little tight, little nervous, as expected,” he said of his MLB debut. “But just being around those guys and seeing those guys’ work ethic throughout the day kind of really shows you what you need to do when you’re not up there to get back up there.”

The 68th player in Mets camp, Ingram faces long odds for a roster spot in part because of his control issues, but also because his accessible Minor League options mean the Mets can send him to Triple-A without penalty. Some command improvements would help his chances, potentially putting Ingram in the mix as a lefty bullpen option later this year.