WASHINGTON — When he makes his Mets debut Saturday against the Nationals, Chris Bassitt will pitch as Chris Bassitt, which sounds silly and obvious but actually was a yearslong process that turned him into an All-Star.
Just ask leftfielder Mark Canha, his longtime Athletics teammate and charter flight seatmate, about Bassitt’s straightlaced, no-nonsense mentality on the mound.
“He’s just a very convicted, sure-of-himself kind of guy. He has an air of confidence about him, which is what I think makes him so good at what he does,” Canha said. “That wasn’t something that was there earlier in his career. And at one point he just decided, ‘I’m going to do this and do it this way.’ That’s what makes him so good.”
Bassitt’s evolution included trying to emulate top-notch teammates — a valiant but, he learned, ill-advised effort.
As he rose through the White Sox’s farm system and then reached the majors in 2014, Bassitt looked up to Chris Sale, who was emerging as a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. When he was traded to Oakland, he played with Sonny Gray, who had a career year their first season together.
“I fell into a trap early on where I was trying to be other people,” Bassitt said. “It worked to an extent, but overall you can only be the best you if you’re trying to be you . . . Obviously, to see success of what they’re doing, chasing Cy Youngs and everything else, yeah, you try to be those guys. I learned more and more, you’re trying to be yourself and be your best you.”
That lesson didn’t really hit until he missed most of 2016-17 after suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He had major surgery, was away from the major-league team and didn’t have anyone to mold himself after.
When he returned in 2018 — and had a breakout 2019 at age 30 — Bassitt learned who he was.
“It was like, all right, I just gotta be myself through the Tommy John process,” Bassitt said. “No one else is there, so it forces you to be yourself.”
Alonso asks in
Showing no ill effects other than a fat lip a day after he was hit by a pitch, Pete Alonso asked Buck Showalter to keep him in the lineup for Friday. The manager obliged.
“I thought it was important for Pete mentally and emotionally — and physically it helps our team — to be back in there,” Showalter said.
Game within the game
On the topic of the Nationals hitting Mets batters with pitches three times Thursday, Showalter cited the chilly spring weather that makes it notoriously difficult to grip a baseball. But he also said he understood the Mets’ anger because “if you’ve been hit by a pitch, it hurts.”
These things have a way of escalating, particularly if a team believes there was intent and wants payback.
“This isn’t some ‘see how big your tail is’ [contest],” Showalter said. “We know what’s reality and what options are always [available].”
After missing Opening Day, Brandon Nimmo was back in the lineup Friday, batting first and playing centerfield. He deemed his stiff neck “98%” better.
Good to go
Taijuan Walker said he is all set for his season debut Monday against the Phillies, having completed a longer-than-normal 45-pitch bullpen session Friday without any of the right knee soreness that had been bothering him lately.
He threw more pitches than usual because of his limited workload in his most recent outing, aborted because of the knee issue, and his extra day of rest before taking the mound again. Nick Plummer, with the team as a member of the taxi squad, stood in the batter’s box to help Walker simulate two at-bats.
Dominic Smith is likely to start Saturday and Sunday, Showalter said, after beginning the Mets’ first two games on the bench.
“We’re going to take full use of Smitty’s skills,” he said. “We’re not going to let anybody over there that we think can really impact us sit around.”
The Mets’ win against the Nationals on Thursday was the highest-rated season opener ever on SNY “in every key demographic,” SNY said in a news release. More than half of the viewers were younger than 55 . . . Infielder Travis Blankenhorn, designated for assignment earlier in the week, cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Syracuse.