PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Brandon Nimmo has made plenty of news during spring training, but Thursday was the first time it was the welcome kind.
Instead of a sore shoulder, which limited Nimmo early in camp, or his stomach virus, which created national headlines when it was first thought that his undercooked chicken got him sick, Nimmo’s newsmaking against the Marlins happened at the plate.
He blasted his first two home runs of spring training, a particularly positive development for the Mets given the timing, one week before Opening Day.
“He’s taken off, and today was probably showing us, OK, he’s ready for the season,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “At the exact right time.”
The first blast came in the second inning, when Miami lefthander Wei-Yin Chen left a fastball over the plate with two runners on. Nimmo yanked it to the berm in rightfield. In the seventh, against righthander Drew Steckenrider, Nimmo hit a solo shot to right-centerfield.
These weren’t spring cheapies against nobodies, either. Chen likely will be in the Marlins’ rotation (or be a swingman out of the bullpen) and Steckenrider figures prominently into their late-inning relief plans.
Nimmo’s spring contained minimal offensive highlights until Thursday. He entered the game hitting .268 with a .295 on-base percentage and .341 slugging percentage, plus zero homers and five RBIs. Part of that can be chalked up to his late start — thanks to the soreness and sickness, he didn’t get into a game until Feb. 26 and didn’t play in the field until March 7 — but he said he felt himself getting closer of late.
“A week and a half to two weeks ago, I started to have better at-bats where I started to lay off pitches a little bit more right out of the hand, starting to be a little bit more like myself,” Nimmo said. “It was more the quality of the at-bats. I wasn’t necessarily scorching every ball or getting a lot of hits. It was more me swinging at good pitches, starting to put them in play better, so slowly getting to that barrel more often.”
That finally manifested itself in three pitches barreled up, including a fourth-inning flyout to left.
“Definitely a lot better. Today was a good day,” Nimmo said. “Definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s still things to work on. I definitely feel a whole lot better now than at the beginning of spring. There’s always going to be things to work on. I feel like I made better adjustments today.”
Michael Conforto also homered. Like Nimmo’s first, it was particularly noteworthy because it came against a lefthander in Chen.
Nimmo and Conforto, both lefthanded hitters, have been followed by the idea — the myth — that they struggle against southpaws, which was the opposite of true in 2018.
Conforto had a .250/.332/.476 slash line against lefties. Nimmo had a .234/.351/.391 slash line — far weaker than his line against righthanders but still above league-average.
Conforto has homered in four straight games. He leads the team with five homers, one more than Pete Alonso, and his OPS is up to .916.
“Oh my gosh. He’s been amazing,” Nimmo said. “It’s fun to watch him on these tears. He’s just swinging the bat really well and finding the barrel a lot, and when he does that, it’s going to lead to [hits] to all fields. He’s pretty amazing. This is a fun time to watch him.”