PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mets manager Luis Rojas had Thursday circled on his mental calendar as the day he would start letting his pitchers hit to prepare for the DH-less National League season.
On Tuesday, Rojas said he was planning to hold off just in case baseball decides to use the universal designated hitter for the second straight year.
"Initially, in my head, I thought we were probably going to start doing it after the 10th," Rojas said of having his pitchers bat. "But that’s not happening. That’s not happening on Thursday with [Jacob deGrom] pitching. Maybe the next time around we will – or if it needs to get a little later, we will as well. But, I think, you heard already – not only from me, but from [team president] Sandy Alderson and [acting general manager] Zack Scott – that we’ve been waiting to see if there’s going to be a DH. That definitely will help, I think, with a lot of the things that are going on."
Could it be? Is there a glimmer of hope MLB and the union will come to a last-minute agreement for something that everyone in baseball – well, nearly everyone, just not deGrom – wants to see happen?
Does Rojas know something we don’t?
"Right now, I’ve got to say there’s no chance [the NL will have the DH in 2021]," Rojas said. "That’s just how I’ve got to approach it."
So odds are that deGrom will be the first Mets pitcher since Noah Syndergaard in the 2019 season finale to have an at-bat when the 2021 season opens on April 1 in Washington against the Nationals.
But the fact that Rojas is holding back his pitchers’ hacks until next week suggests the door is not 100% closed in some minds. Remember, MLB and the union didn’t agree to expand the postseason from 10 to 16 teams last year until hours before Max Scherzer threw the first pitch of the season to Aaron Hicks of the Yankees.
The Mets are the poster children for how a DH would help. You know the details: Pete Alonso could DH instead of playing first, Dom Smith could play first instead of left, Brandon Nimmo could play left instead of center, Albert Almora Jr. or Kevin Pillar could play center instead of keeping their superior gloves on the bench . . .
And NL teams wouldn’t have to risk having their prized pitchers get hurt in what is almost always a futile attempt to hit.
"Just keeping everyone healthy," Rojas said. "I think the less action the pitcher has on the offensive end the safer we can be. But we’re getting ready for the pitcher to hit. We may see that a little later in camp, but we’ll do the job that we need to do just to get the guys in a position where they can swing the bat and be cautious on the bases, at least in camp, and then once we go into the season, yeah, it will get a little bit more competitive. We shared our DH spots before, but definitely that’s not up to us. We’ll be ready to play the National League-rule game with pitchers hitting and have our strategies and everything going on."
DeGrom, who will make his second spring training start on Thursday night against Houston at West Palm Beach, is a career .189 hitter with three home runs (two of them in 2019). He wants to take his hacks.
"Yeah, I look forward to hitting," deGrom said on Feb. 19. "That's how it was when I came up and how baseball's been for a long time. This may be the last year we get to do it, so I look forward to doing it again."