PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The game was designed with Jacob deGrom in mind: flexible rules, a controlled environment, all with intentions of helping deGrom build up his pitch count as he prepares for the season. But it was Michael Conforto who stole the show in Wednesday's Minor League scrimmage,
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The game was designed with Jacob deGrom in mind: flexible rules, a controlled environment, all with intentions of helping deGrom build up his pitch count as he prepares for the season. But it was Michael Conforto who stole the show in Wednesday's Minor League scrimmage, blasting two home runs -- including a long one off last year's first-round Draft pick, David Peterson -- in 10 at-bats.
Conforto finished 3-for-10 as he continued rehabbing from left shoulder surgery.
"I'm pretty close," said Conforto, who will miss the start of the regular season. "I'm starting to feel my legs a little bit and starting to feel like I'm in rhythm with everything. So I'm getting close."
At the start of camp, Conforto said he was targeting a May 1 return from surgery to repair a torn capsule in his shoulder, which he dislocated on a swing last August. He has since progressed rapidly enough that he's now "hoping" he can return at some point in April.
Conforto even briefly entertained the idea of appearing in a Grapefruit League game this spring, though manager Mickey Callaway said Wednesday that won't happen. Conforto still must prove he is capable of playing outfield on a daily basis before the Mets will send him on a rehab assignment.
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For now, Conforto is "day to day" following Wednesday's strong performance. Batting twice per inning for five innings, Conforto struck out against Peterson, the Mets' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, in the first before connecting on his homer -- a majestic drive to the berm in right field -- in the second.
Several innings later, Conforto hit a second homer just to the right of the center-field batter's eye vs. lefty relief prospect Daniel Zamora.
"He's in a really good spot," Callaway said. "You saw the way the ball's coming off his bat when he squares it up. I don't know how far that one was, but it went a very long ways. The bat speed's there. He feels healthy. It's just a matter of time before we can get him in a game."
Conforto's return will solve more than one problem for the Mets, who have debated the merits of using Brandon Nimmo or Juan Lagares as their everyday center fielder in the All-Star's absence. Most likely, Callaway will settle on a combination of both players until Conforto returns and sends them to the bench.
As for the other guy ...
Also sharp during the Minor League scrimmage, deGrom stretched out to 88 pitches, throwing approximately 15 per inning. He managed to retire five Minor Leaguers in the first inning alone before hitting his prescribed pitch count.
The Mets set up the game to keep deGrom on turn for his March 31 regular-season debut. The right-hander will start once more in Florida in an abbreviated outing during another scrimmage Monday.
"The main goal was to get the pitch count up," said deGrom, who is healthy after missing time earlier in camp due to back stiffness. "I definitely felt good doing it."
It was not lost on Conforto, an Oregon State alumnus, that his first home run came off Peterson, an Oregon Duck -- an inning after Peterson struck him out. Meeting for the first time last year at Citi Field, the two engaged in some good-natured ribbing during Wednesday's scrimmage.
"I had to get him back," Conforto said, laughing. "I can't say, 'Go Ducks.'"
Like many, Conforto had never seen Peterson pitch. He and Callaway both came away impressed by the left-hander's sinker, which he first showcased professionally during three brief appearances for Class A Short-Season Brooklyn last summer. The Mets selected Peterson 20th overall in last year's Draft.
"A tall lefty with good stuff … he looked composed out there, under control for as big of a guy as he is," Callaway said. "If I were a pitching coach analyzing what he is doing, I'd like to see him use his lower half a little bit better, because there's probably some extra stuff in the tank that he's not using. But he's a really impressive young guy."
Although their next rotation turns come up Friday and Saturday, respectively, the Mets will not use Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz in Grapefruit League games, shielding them from seeing the Cardinals so close to Opening Day. Instead, Rafael Montero will start Friday, with Saturday's pitcher to be determined.
Syndergaard is scheduled to pitch March 29 against the Cards at Citi Field. Although the Mets have not announced Matz's first assignment, their rotation machinations all but confirm he will start their third game, also against St. Louis on April 1.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.