DUNEDIN, Fla. — Alex Rodriguez may be ready to hang ’em up after the 2017 season, but don’t expect any such declaration from the Mets’ own ageless wonder, Bartolo Colon.
“You could say the thought’s crossed my mind,” said the 42-year-old Colon, Rodriguez’s former teammate with the Yankees. “But as soon as the offseason hits, you just can’t wait to be back. This is my job. I want to be back at my job, and I want to be back with my teammates because I like my family.”
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For all the worrying types, the spring has brought forth reasons for fretting, from Jacob deGrom’s sagging velocity to Steven Matz’s fleeting command. Until Wednesday, Colon had been on that list as well.
For the first time this spring, he resembled the strike-throwing machine that he has been in the twilight of his career. In a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays, Colon posted zeros in his six innings, the longest outing by any Mets starter. The only blemish came when he plunked Troy Tulo witzki on the right hand. Colon allowed three hits and struck out six without issuing a walk.
“Obviously, I was happy,” Colon said through an interpreter. “I was throwing strikes. I’d like to think a lot of strikes usually but there were a lot more today, and with my changeup, which was something that I was really working on.”
Until Wednesday, Colon had been getting worse with every start. He allowed one run in three innings March 7, his first Grapefruit League start. He followed on March 12 by surrendering four runs in 3 2⁄3 innings against the Cardinals. Colon’s worst outing came March 18 against the Nationals. In five innings, he was bashed for eight runs and nine hits.
Through it all, the heavyset righthander shrugged off the results, chalking them up to using Grapefruit League games to work on his secondary pitches. But with the Mets less than a week from departing Florida, Colon looked game-ready. He retired the first six batters he faced. That stretch included a strikeout of reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, Colon’s former teammate with the A’s, who flailed at a two-seam fastball that dove out of the zone.
That told Colon all he needed to know about his stuff.
“I think the one today that I was really focusing on was Donaldson,” said Colon, who shared a knowing glance with him before their first-inning confrontation. “We always kind of goof off together. We joke around a lot together, so that was fun today.”
The two-seamer was precisely the kind of pitch that Colon has perfected to keep hitters at bay despite a fastball that has mellowed with age.
“He threw the ball great today, a lot more movement on his fastball,” Terry Collins said. “He’s a command guy, but he had real good movement today and made a lot of good pitches.”
While the Mets’ hard-throwing young arms have been the center of attention, Colon will be leaned upon to fill out the rotation until Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery in July. After that, the career-long starter could be headed to the bullpen.
“I don’t think about that at all,” Colon said. “They’ll do with me whatever they want to do with me . . . I just want to help the team out.”
As for what lies ahead, Colon consistently has said he will evaluate his future year by year, which he repeated Wednesday. But he acknowledged that working in relief could be another avenue to extend his career. “God willing, as long as I stay healthy, I’d be open to that.”