WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Mets have been consistent in saying they intend to take their 25 best players north with them. On Sunday, manager Mickey Callaway acknowledged Pete Alonso is lining himself up to be part of that group.
Alonso cracked his team-leading fourth spring homer off Henderson Alvarez in the Mets' 10-5 loss to the Nationals, prompting Callaway to provide further hints at the rookie's Opening Day status.
Callaway was asked, could he make an argument against Alonso? "At this point? No, plain and simple," the manager said. "Obviously, we do have a week and a half left, but he's done a great job."
Many around baseball remain skeptical that the Mets will carry Alonso on Opening Day, given a Major League rule ensuring an extra year of team control if they wait until mid-April to call him up. But the Mets have insisted for months that they will not operate under those parameters.
In the meantime, Alonso is doing everything possible to force the issue, batting .347 with a 1.058 OPS through 16 games. His four home runs lead the Mets, while his 17 hits trail only Robinson Cano (18).
"I'm really happy with the way I've played," Alonso said. "I just want to finish strong. That's it."
deGrom on Monday
Illness forced Jacob deGrom to leave camp Sunday before he could make his scheduled start in a Minor League game, but the issue will not prevent him from pitching Opening Day. The Cy Young Award winner now intends to start Monday in a Minor League game, keeping him on track to go March 28 against the Nationals on regular rest.
The Mets shifted deGrom to the Minors for fear of overexposing him to the Nationals so soon before the regular season. That should set up an interesting scene on the back fields Monday, with deGrom scheduled to oppose Noah Syndergaard in an intrasquad affair. (Gates will open to the public at 9:30 a.m.)
The Nationals were apparently unconcerned about overexposure, using Stephen Strasburg -- their Game 2 starter -- in Sunday's "A" game. Earlier in the day, the Nats announced their rotation, which will result in three marquee matchups to begin the season. On March 28, deGrom will face Max Scherzer; on March 30, Syndergaard will oppose Strasburg; and on March 31, Zack Wheeler will face Patrick Corbin.
Because deGrom was scheduled to pitch on the back fields, veteran left-hander Hector Santiago started Sunday's Grapefruit League game in West Palm Beach. The extended opportunity to impress Mets coaches quickly soured, however, when the Nationals rapped out six runs on seven consecutive hits in the first inning. Santiago recorded merely two outs.
"They just hit him around a little bit, plain and simple," Callaway said, adding that Santiago remains in contention for the Mets' final bullpen spot. "He's thrown the ball well all spring. He still is. One bad outing."
Also in contention for the Mets' final spot are right-hander Tim Peterson, who has seven strikeouts, one walk and a 2.70 ERA in 6 2/3 innings; and lefty Ryan O'Rourke, who escaped a two-on, no-outs jam to pitch two scoreless innings Sunday. O'Rourke lowered his ERA to 2.16, but faces a steeper climb to make the roster than Peterson, who is already on the 40-man roster.
Additional competitors include right-handers Tyler Bashlor (5.59 ERA) and Kyle Dowdy (12.46), and lefty Daniel Zamora (7.94).
Outfielder Carlos Gomez, who has yet to play this spring due to a work visa issue, has been cleared to appear in Grapefruit League games. The Mets are hopeful Gomez will have that documentation in hand in time to debut Monday.
The Mets reduced the number of players in camp to 39, reassigning veteran outfielder Gregor Blanco and infielder Danny Espinosa to the Minors.
New front office special assistant Al Leiter reported to Port St. Lucie on Sunday, "grateful" for a chance to impact the Mets' player development system.
"It's coming back to a place that's home -- literally," Leiter said. "And it felt right."
Leiter, who joins David Wright, John Franco and Jessica Mendoza in the Mets' revamped front office, does not know exactly what he will do on a day-to-day basis as he balances his duties for the Mets with work at MLB Network. But Leiter hopes to spend at least some time talking with pitchers about the mental side of the game, drawing on his experiences with the late sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.
Saying he identifies with the Mets more than any other team, Leiter -- who previously spent a dozen years in the Yankees' YES Network broadcast booth -- is also part of the Mets' push to maintain closer ties with their alumni. Nearly a dozen former Mets have made their way through camp this spring, including Dwight Gooden, Mike Piazza and various members of the 1969 Mets. (Former media relations head Jay Horwitz, now the Mets' director of alumni relations, has been instrumental in prepping for the team's 1969 World Series championship anniversary celebration.)
On Monday, Wright is scheduled to appear in camp for the first time as a special adviser.
With deGrom and Syndergaard pitching on a back field Monday, Dowdy will start the Mets' Grapefruit League game against the Nationals. Consider it a significant test for the Rule 5 pick, who will oppose right-hander Joe Ross in the 1:10 p.m. ET game at First Data Field.