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Shaking off rust? Sorry, deGrom can't relate

Ace comes out firing, hits 97 on first pitch of spring
@AnthonyDiComo
March 1, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Of course, no one would have blamed Jacob deGrom had he needed to scrape away some rust following 22 weeks away from a Major League mound. deGrom did not have to open his Grapefruit League debut with a 97-mph fastball, nor hit 98 mph a

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Of course, no one would have blamed Jacob deGrom had he needed to scrape away some rust following 22 weeks away from a Major League mound. deGrom did not have to open his Grapefruit League debut with a 97-mph fastball, nor hit 98 mph a few pitches later, nor throw 13 consecutive strikes to start Sunday’s game. He did not have to jam Ryan Zimmerman on an inside fastball, generating the first of three quick outs during a 1-2-3 top of the first that took, all told, three minutes to complete.

He simply did those things because he could. He did them because that’s what Jacob deGrom does.

“It shows who he is, how he gets prepared,” manager Luis Rojas said of deGrom’s three shutout innings in a 3-1 win over the Nationals at Clover Park. “It just shows that he’s out there just working to keep getting better and be the best version of himself.”

So efficient was deGrom on Sunday that he needed merely 33 pitches to complete his three innings, allowing one hit and walking no one. Because that wasn’t quite enough work, deGrom went straight to the bullpen to fire eight more warm-ups and 13 additional pitches.

Just like he did after throwing in a simulated game five days earlier, deGrom admitted that his off-speed pitches weren’t perfect. But he likes his fastball at this early spring juncture and, with three and a half weeks remaining before his Opening Day assignment against the Nats, deGrom feels he has plenty of time left to round back into Cy Young form. Already, Rojas said, “he looks like the pitcher he is.”

deGrom’s seven-pitch first inning underscored that, even if it did not help him much as he prepares for the season. More valuable was the second inning, when Andrew Stevenson singled, then danced off first base as deGrom battled Michael A. Taylor deep into a count. After multiple throws over to first, deGrom coaxed Taylor to pop up, and teamed with Wilson Ramos to catch Stevenson trying to steal.

“That’s when you make your most important pitches, with runners on,” deGrom said, noting that he didn’t feel quite as comfortable throwing out of the stretch as out of the wind-up. “I felt like that was useful for me, that second inning.”

For deGrom, it’s all relative. Coming off back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards, deGrom is better on his bad days than most pitchers are on their best. Even he could admit that his off-speed pitches were “good pitches,” despite the fact that he was unhappy with them. In his constant pursuit of perfection, deGrom takes every detail seriously.

Nothing bothers deGrom more than failure -- whether that occurs on a back field, in a spring game, during the summer or in October. His goal is to avoid it at all costs.

“Any time I take the mound, I’m nervous,” deGrom said. “Any time I’m out there competing, I always seem to get nervous. It felt good to get back out there in a real game feel, people in the stands, another team. It felt good to be out there.”

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.