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Mets' success rides on arms of starters

Club banking on Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, Wheeler to be healthy
MLB.com

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Feb. 12, it's time to dissect the Mets' 2018 roster. This is the first of a six-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backups heading into the season. First up: starting pitchers.

NEW YORK -- As the Mets attempt to improve their team at the margins this offseason, shoring up their infield and outfield depth, the unspoken truth is that much of this only matters if the starting pitching succeeds. The Mets, at their core, are a team built around starting pitching. The fulcrum of their 2018 success -- or lack thereof -- remains their rotation.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Feb. 12, it's time to dissect the Mets' 2018 roster. This is the first of a six-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backups heading into the season. First up: starting pitchers.

NEW YORK -- As the Mets attempt to improve their team at the margins this offseason, shoring up their infield and outfield depth, the unspoken truth is that much of this only matters if the starting pitching succeeds. The Mets, at their core, are a team built around starting pitching. The fulcrum of their 2018 success -- or lack thereof -- remains their rotation.

It is a group that struggled mightily last season, ranking 27th in the Majors with a 5.14 ERA. It is also a group that, just one year earlier featuring similar personnel, was third in MLB with a 3.61 mark.

Video: Syndergaard on his health, looking towards 2018

"I feel like a lot of teams would like to have our starting staff and the depth that we have," manager Mickey Callaway said last month.

The Mets' focus heading into 2018 is not on changing their starting staff -- to the contrary, they have eschewed opportunities to add depth -- but on keeping it healthy. Noah Syndergaard, who missed four months last season with a torn right lat muscle, must redevelop into an ace. Jacob deGrom, who submitted his most durable season, must give the Mets more of the same. Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, who have suffered through a seemingly unending string of maladies the past two seasons, must find a way to take the ball consistently.

Video: Syndergaard looks to put the hammer down in 2018

It is unrealistic to think all of those pitchers, considering their injury histories, will submit full seasons in 2018. But the Mets have reason to believe that if the majority of them do, they can fill in the gaps just fine with Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Rafael Montero, Chris Flexen and others.

But to be clear, the Mets are not just sitting back and hoping. Their training staff refresh is taking place in large part because the Mets want to be proactive about keeping their pitchers healthy. The team also plans to limit most of its starters -- likely all but deGrom and Syndergaard -- from regularly facing opposing batters more than twice in a game. The idea is to rely less on heavy starting-pitcher workloads, and more on what the Mets believe is an improved bullpen.

Video: Callaway joins MLB Tonight to discuss Mets' rotation

"I think we're all really excited," Syndergaard said. "We're all looking and pushing for each other to stay healthy, and to stay healthy throughout the entire year."

Heading into Spring Training, perhaps the most pressing question surrounding the Mets' rotation is who will be in it. Beyond deGrom and Syndergaard, Callaway is guaranteeing nothing, though it is reasonable to expect Harvey will slot in third. Matz and Wheeler, who missed significant chunks of last season, must prove that they belong, while the others will try to bull their way into what can still be an elite unit.

Video: Callaway on competition amongst starting pitchers

"Any time you have a lot of pitchers that are capable of pitching in the Major Leagues, there's competition," Callaway said. "It's a healthy competition among teammates that creates a lot of success. There's going to be competition every single day."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.