Notes: Carrasco, Walker close, but won't rush things this spring

March 16th, 2022

NEW YORK -- At this point in a normal Spring Training progression, Carlos Carrasco typically throws around 86-88 mph during bullpen sessions. But when Carrasco took the mound Tuesday morning, the Mets’ tracking equipment clocked him at 92 mph -- an encouraging sign for a pitcher who underwent surgery to remove a bone fragment from his right elbow last October.

“Everything’s really good right now,” Carrasco said afterward, noting that he had pitched with the bone fragment for the past seven seasons. “It was the time to take it out. That’s what I did, and I’m glad I did, because I feel better.”

The Mets certainly hope Carrasco can return to prime form this season. For all the talk surrounding Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt atop the rotation, much could hinge upon the right arms of Carrasco and Taijuan Walker, who will become the fourth and fifth starters by default. Carrasco is coming back from what was essentially a lost season marred by hamstring and arm woes. Walker is returning from a right knee debridement procedure. And while manager Buck Showalter won’t commit to either of them being ready for the season-opening rotation, both will play significant roles regardless.

“We’re approaching it like they’re close,” Showalter said. “It may be as simple as the length of their outings isn’t there early on. The question is, do we want to have them pitch somewhere else to get stretched out, or have them start with a three-inning stint or something?”

Neither might be necessary for Carrasco, who completed two live batting practice sessions before arriving at Mets camp and is scheduled for a third on Friday. Of greater question is the status of Walker, who threw 40 pitches in a bullpen session Monday and estimated that he’s about “a week or two” behind other Mets pitchers. While it’s possible that Walker could be ready to go when the Mets first need a fifth starter on April 11, he sees no reason to rush with a long season in front of him.

“I don’t want to put a timeline on it,” Walker said. “We’ll see how I feel.”

Grateful slugger
Less than two days after fearing for his life in a horrific car crash, Pete Alonso was back on the field with his teammates, smiling as fans shouted encouragement during batting practice. Alonso, who came away with only a scratch on his arm despite his pickup truck flipping over three times, spoke Monday about how the episode gave him a new perspective on life and baseball.

“My bet is he’s pretty happy to be out on the field,” Showalter said.

Coming full circle
Infielder Matt Reynolds had never appeared in a big league game when the Mets added him to their playoff roster in 2015, after Chase Utley broke Ruben Tejada’s leg with what many Mets considered a dirty slide during Game 2 of the National League Division Series. And while Reynolds didn’t debut that postseason either, the experience left an indelible mark on him.

“I think about it, honestly, a good amount,” said Reynolds, who recently signed a Minor League deal to return to the club. “When I was going through it, I didn’t really realize how special it was, because you’re just kind of thrust into this situation. You go with the flow. You don’t really think about it until you’re out of the situation. … And man, what a ride that was, getting my first taste of the big leagues in the playoffs.”

From 2016-17, Reynolds bounced between the Majors and Minors, before leaving the Mets for stints in Washington, Kansas City and Chicago. All the while, Reynolds said, the Mets continued pursuing him, with eyes on bringing their 2012 second-round Draft pick back to the organization. They finally succeeded this offseason, giving Reynolds -- now, 31, married, with a 6-month-old son at home -- a chance to continue his career where it began.

“A lot of things have changed,” Reynolds said. “I’ve got my son with me now, and my wife. It would be pretty cool to get back to the big leagues where I got my first opportunity, with a whole different perspective of life.”

Lefty competition takes shape
General manager Billy Eppler has said that he does not intend to unplug from the free-agent market this spring, meaning he’ll constantly be searching for upgrades leading up to Opening Day. But Eppler has also indicated that he’s not necessarily committed to adding another left-handed reliever to his roster -- the Mets’ most obvious remaining area of need.

When asked about that situation, Eppler pointed to his confidence in Alex Claudio, an eight-year veteran on a Minor League deal. Consistent for most of his career as a side-arming lefty specialist, Claudio struggled last year in Anaheim, posting a 5.51 ERA and allowing lefty batters to tag him for an .855 OPS. (For a little insurance, the Mets also agreed to terms Tuesday on a Minors deal with Mike Montgomery, who was in camp last year until he opted out of his contract and hooked on in Korea.)

While it’s still possible that the Mets could sign a free agent such as Andrew Chafin or even swing a blockbuster trade for Josh Hader or another lefty, it’s also plausible that the answer to the Mets’ lefty problem could come from inside the clubhouse.

“Honestly, I can’t really pay attention to that because it’s not something that I have control over,” Claudio said through an interpreter. “What I have to do is I have to go out there, I have to do the best I can, and hopefully make the big league team with the work that I put in.”