Notes: JV's changeup; Max's pace; Mauricio's clout

February 27th, 2023

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Who says evolution stops at 40?

Coming off a Cy Young season, Justin Verlander is once again tinkering with his pitch mix, as he’s done throughout his 17-year big league career. The changeup used to be a significant part of Verlander’s arsenal, but he began relying on it less and less as his slider became more of a weapon. By his mid-30s, Verlander had all but abandoned his fourth pitch.

Last year, Verlander had designs on reviving the changeup, but things were going so well for him that he hesitated to use it in big spots. Now, with all of spring to experiment, Verlander plans on committing more fully to it.

“I worked at it, so I want to use it,” Verlander said. “I don’t want to waste my time.”

Why mess with a repertoire that proved effective last season? In Verlander’s estimation, many hitters around the league are more susceptible to changeups than they used to be -- particularly right-handers “who stay on my fastball up, stay on my slider away.”

“It would be nice to have something that breaks in the opposite direction under their barrel,” he said.

Verlander continued to tinker with the changeup during a live batting practice session Sunday, facing hitters including Brandon Nimmo and Francisco Álvarez. He expects to make his Grapefruit League debut this Friday or Saturday.

Speed up, slow down
Upon exiting the Mets’ 6-3 win over the Nationals on Sunday, Max Scherzer stopped to have a long conversation with home-plate umpire David Rackley. Over the previous two innings, Scherzer had experimented with different paces on the mound, hoping to gain an advantage from Major League Baseball’s new pitch timer. The right-hander struck out five batters while allowing one run on three hits.

“I can work extremely quick or I can work extremely slow,” Scherzer said. “There’s another layer here to try to mess with the hitter’s timing.”

Mostly, Scherzer wanted clarification from Rackley that he is allowed to begin his windup as soon as the clock hits eight seconds. Batters are required to be in the box and looking up at that point, so Scherzer on Sunday tried to come set before the eight-second mark, with designs on delivering as soon as the clock hit eight.

On other occasions, Scherzer deliberately held the ball longer so that hitters couldn’t anticipate him throwing every pitch at the same cadence.

“There’s a cat-mouse game,” Scherzer said. “There’s rules, and I’ll operate within whatever the rules are.”

Prospect power
Ronny Mauricio’s Statcast-projected 450-foot homer Sunday may have been impressive, but he already knew he had that sort of pop within him. Last August in a game for Double-A Binghamton, Mauricio slugged a homer that was projected at 507 feet.

“He’s gotten stronger,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said.

At Mauricio’s first spring weigh-in back in 2018, he tipped the scales at a lithe 166 pounds. He’s since gained more than 50 pounds as his teenage body has filled out with muscle. Last year, Mauricio hit a career-high 26 homers at Binghamton before adding five more in the Dominican Winter League. The Mets' No. 6 prospect now has one this spring -- and it was a long memorable one for a prospect boasting significant power potential.

“It felt good, the work that I’ve been putting in and the effort that I’ve been putting in each and every day,” Mauricio said through an interpreter. “To be able to see that and to keep progressing, but also to see the results show on the field, it felt good.”

New guy’s here
Outfielder Jaylin Davis reported to camp on Sunday morning, two days after the team inked him to a Minor League contract. Davis, a four-year MLB veteran, said he spent most of February working out near his home at Push Performance in Tempe, Ariz. When the Mets came calling, he quickly agreed to terms, packed his bags and left for Florida. He was in camp two days after agreeing to sign.

Davis will compete for playing time on the Triple-A Syracuse roster alongside several other MLB veterans.