Healthy Lucchesi could be key piece for Mets
Left-hander to start, try out new pitch in intrasquad game on Friday
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Shortly before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow in June 2021, Joey Lucchesi made a small but impactful change to his delivery.
Previously, Lucchesi had lifted his glove above and behind his head, a timing mechanism that has largely fallen out of favor across the sport. When Lucchesi abandoned those unnecessary movements on a tip from teammate Marcus Stroman, who urged him to come set with his glove near his chest, he found his delivery almost instantly became more fluid. Lucchesi began ramping his fastball up to 95 mph in games, which helped him enjoy his finest month as a Met: a 1.19 ERA from late May through mid-June.
Then injury hit, followed by Tommy John surgery, and Lucchesi hasn’t been back to the Majors. He missed the second half of the 2021 season recovering, as well as most of ‘22. By the end of last season, Lucchesi had made it as far as Minor League rehab games, but his results were uneven. He told the Mets he would be happy to contribute to the stretch run as a reliever. They declined.
Only in his final start of the Minor League season did Lucchesi begin generating the types of swings and misses that made him think, “All right. I’m getting dudes out. I was making them look silly.”
If Lucchesi can showcase that same sort of ability this spring, he could again become a key piece for the Mets. The lefty, who will start one half of New York’s intrasquad game Friday at Clover Park (tickets are $10, with proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County), could contribute to the team as a starter, a reliever or some combination thereof.
“I just feel really good right now,” said Lucchesi, who produced a 4.46 ERA in 2021 after coming over in a trade from the Padres in January. “I’m super happy to be healthy and playing now. I’m just excited. I want to help the team out and win some ballgames.”
This offseason, Lucchesi worked out at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander also train. For the first time in his career, Lucchesi incorporated compound movements and explosive medicine ball exercises into his workouts rather than focusing solely on heavy weightlifting. At Cressey, he also learned new breathing techniques to use on the mound.
“I feel young, man,” Lucchesi said. “I feel young right now.”
Lucchesi is even working on a new pitch -- it’s still a secret, he says, but he plans to try it out Friday -- to incorporate alongside his signature “churve,” his sinker and a cutter that he refined during Tommy John rehab.
Realistically, Lucchesi sits eighth or ninth on the Mets’ rotation depth chart behind their veteran starting five, David Peterson and Tylor Megill. But the team intends to stretch Lucchesi out as a starter and is hesitant to look at him in any other role, understanding the value of rotation depth. Although the Mets never acquired a second left-hander to pair with Brooks Raley in the bullpen, they don’t believe it’s strictly necessary to have one. When asked about Lucchesi’s ultimate job description, manager Buck Showalter responded, “I’m not going to preclude anything from happening.”
Showalter added that pitchers like Lucchesi with accessible Minor League options -- what he calls the “Big O” column on the roster whiteboard in his office -- are at a disadvantage when it comes to camp competitions.
For now, Lucchesi will attempt to prove his ability to pitch in any context -- a task that will continue Friday at Clover Park. He has only been up to around 90 mph in bullpen sessions, but the adrenaline of even an intrasquad game can quickly change that sort of thing.
“I really feel like I’m going to get there,” Lucchesi said. “I’m going to try to bump it up."