PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ask Mets manager Mickey Callaway, or pitching coach Dave Eiland, or even Noah Syndergaard himself. They'll all say the same: Jacob deGrom deserves to start on Opening Day.But deGrom will not pitch March 29 against the Cardinals. Delayed by a mid-February back injury that lingered
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ask Mets manager Mickey Callaway, or pitching coach Dave Eiland, or even Noah Syndergaard himself. They'll all say the same: Jacob deGrom deserves to start on Opening Day.
But deGrom will not pitch March 29 against the Cardinals. Delayed by a mid-February back injury that lingered just long enough to disrupt his schedule, deGrom will instead give way to Syndergaard, before making his own debut in Game 2 of the regular season.
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"We think that's a pretty good one and two coming out of the gate," Callaway said.
Heading into camp, deGrom was the Mets' most obvious Opening Day candidate after setting career highs in starts, innings and strikeouts in 2017. The only Mets starter to stay on the active roster from the season's first pitch until its last, deGrom finished 15-10 with a 3.53 ERA.
But he experienced a bout of back stiffness in mid-February, delaying his spring debut until last Sunday. While the Mets could have pushed deGrom's schedule forward to accommodate an Opening Day assignment, they were unwilling to take that risk.
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"We were trying to do everything we can because he earned it based on last year," Callaway said. "It just didn't make sense to us to try and push it, and to get him ready for Opening Day."
Instead, Syndergaard will become the first Mets pitcher to start consecutive Opening Days since Johan Santana in 2008-10. Also dominant when he took the mound last April and September, Syndergaard missed nearly five months due to a strained right lat, which he suffered attempting to pitch through biceps tendinitis last April. In seven total starts, Syndergaard went 1-2 with a 2.97 ERA.
The prior year, he finished 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA to establish himself as one of baseball's best pitchers. Syndergaard says he has since become smarter about how he works out, trying to incorporate flexibility and pliability into his offseason routines.
"He is serious when it comes to pitching and baseball, there's no doubt about it," Callaway said. "Seeing him live is something special. It's a sight to see. This guy is all business when it comes to baseball and the way he works toward it. It's really fun to watch."
The Mets watched Syndergaard pitch in a 6-1 loss to Houston on Tuesday, when he gave up two runs -- one earned -- in 4 2/3 innings. Overall this spring, Syndergaard owns a 1.38 ERA in four starts, with 18 strikeouts and six walks in 13 innings.
"I'm real confident on the mound right now, basically just executing every single one of my pitches," Syndergaard said. "I feel really good and confident."
Beyond Syndergaard and deGrom, the Mets have not revealed their rotation order, though it is overwhelmingly likely that Jason Vargas and Matt Harvey take two of the remaining spots. That leaves one job for Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman, with the rest of them either converting to relief work or heading to Triple-A.
Realistically, the Mets know they will need contributions from all of those pitchers by season's end.
"Opening Day, it's exciting stuff," Syndergaard said. "But I feel like Opening Day is all about setting the pace for the rest of the season, and I feel like we've got five guys that can do that."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.