Notes: Walker's solid debut; prospects shine

March 10th, 2021

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since signing with the Mets and taking uniform No. 99, becoming the second Met in history to wear it after Turk Wendell, has received a crash course on all things related to the eccentric reliever. In addition to the care package that Wendell shipped to Florida -- an animal-tooth necklace, some black licorice, a toothbrush -- Walker has had countless interactions with fans about him.

After making his Grapefruit League debut for the Mets in a 5-3 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday, Walker said he plans to wear the necklace in his next start.

“It was cool that he sent me that care package,” Walker said.

Donning his signature No. 99 jersey at Clover Park, Walker cruised through a perfect first inning against the Cardinals before running into trouble in the second, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. That mattered less than the fact that Walker, who came into camp a bit behind most other pitchers due to his late signing, threw 36 pitches. With four more spring starts remaining, Walker should have plenty of time to stretch out to the 90 or so he’ll need heading into his first regular-season start.

It’s a slow progression for a reason. Due to a combination of Tommy John surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday marked Walker’s second spring outing -- total -- in the last three years. He was eager for the opportunity, regardless of the results.

“It’s just nice to have a Spring Training again,” Walker said.

Bringing the heat

Outside of Jacob deGrom, no one in Mets camp has thrown harder this spring than reliever , who reached 99 mph in a perfect inning against the Cardinals. Castro also struck out two batters on sliders.

Similarly lighting up the radar gun is , a career Minor Leaguer whom the Mets signed to a Major League deal in large part because of his velocity jump over the past year. McWilliams reached 97 mph in Tuesday’s game, though it came with a fair bit of wildness early. After walking the bases loaded in the ninth, McWilliams retired the next three batters in order to nail down his second Grapefruit League save.

“I’m glad that he was able to make the adjustment,” manager Luis Rojas said. “He was smiling at the end of the game there.”

Better late than never

The Mets don’t plan to insert , who was about a week late to camp due to additional medical screening, into their rotation until later this month. As recently as Tuesday morning, team officials were considering debuting Carrasco this weekend. Upon further review, they decided to limit Carrasco to the back fields, where they can better monitor his workload.

Rojas insisted that nothing physical is ailing Carrasco, and that the late start should not affect his ability to be in the Opening Day rotation.

“That’s what we expect,” Rojas said, leaving open the possibility that Carrasco could slide into the back end of the rotation rather than the front end. “He should be ready for the start of the season.”

Camp battles

started an intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday, throwing to a group of hitters including Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto.

Both Peterson and Joey Lucchesi, who are competing for the fifth spot in the Mets’ rotation, have thrown mostly on the back fields so far this spring. Still, Rojas said, “the competition is real.”

Roster cuts

Teenagers Pete Crow-Armstrong, Ronny Mauricio and Matt Allan were among the Mets’ first wave of roster cuts, which included 22 of the 75 players invited to camp. Other prospects cut included Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and J.T. Ginn, none of whom came to camp with realistic shots to make the team. They will remain in Port St. Lucie when Minor League camp begins in a few weeks.

Of greater surprise was sidearm reliever Trevor Hildenberger, who struck out six of the nine batters he faced this spring. Hildenberger and others will continue working out at the Clover Park complex and playing in Grapefruit League games from time to time, but the Mets are looking to focus their reps on players with better chances to make the team.

Mets cetera

• The Mets plan to hold a “camp day” on Wednesday, with no Grapefruit League games scheduled. Players will run through drills at the Clover Park complex during a late-morning workout.

• Among those teenage prospects who impressed in camp was Mauricio, a 19-year-old shortstop who is batting .455 in Grapefruit League play. Mauricio hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s win.

• Outfielder , whose chance to make the team increased when José Martínez suffered a serious knee injury last weekend, made a tumbling catch in the second inning to rob Edmundo Sosa of a hit. Almora stands a strong chance of being on the Mets’ Opening Day bench.