PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Jacob deGrom’s delayed debut, a happily uneventful 2 2⁄3 innings Sunday against the Astros, delivered one bottom-line takeaway in the mind of the Mets righthander: He isn’t that far away.
A brief bout of lower-back stiffness last month kept him sidelined and then limited to back-fields work until this outing. His rotation mates are three starts deep into spring training; he is one.
“I don’t feel like I’m that far behind right now,” deGrom said. “I feel like I’m pretty close. Now just the goal is to make every start from here on out until the end of the season.”
DeGrom reported no issues after his first Grapefruit League appearance, noting that his back hasn’t bothered him since he returned from paternity leave two weeks ago. Everything the Mets have done since then was precautionary, he said.
Against Houston at First Data Field on Sunday, deGrom allowed two runs, two hits and one walk. He threw 47 pitches, ran his fastball up to 98 mph (it sat in the mid-90s) and struck out four.
DeGrom struck out the side in the first inning.
“Definitely had a lot of adrenaline,” he said. “You go face your own hitters in live BPs and sim games, whatever, you want to get them out. But when you go face another team and you’re actually in a game-game, it’s definitely different. I had some nerves, some adrenaline.”
All of the damage came in the second, which offered perhaps the most constructive feedback as far as improvements to make during the rest of spring training. DeGrom put the first three batters on base — single, walk, single — and two sacrifice flies produced two runs.
DeGrom said he was not comfortable pitching out of the stretch. Given that this was his first exhibition game and there were no baserunners in his earlier live batting practice/simulated games, this was his first time pitching with runners on since September.
“Second inning, started getting a little quick to home plate, especially out of the stretch,” deGrom said. “I was having a little bit of a harder time locating. A work in progress . . . Arm wasn’t catching up. Missing a lot high. Other than that, I kind of feel I’m pretty close to where I want to be.”
Said manager Mickey Callaway: “He was just rushing toward home. Kind of leaking a little bit. Wasn’t giving himself time for his arm to catch up.”
DeGrom said he will pitch again Friday. Opening Day remains a long shot — or nearly impossible, if the Mets stick to their standard of wanting him to face batters five times before the regular season — though Callaway hasn’t officially acknowledged that deGrom will not be the starter.
Either way, deGrom said he expects to take the ball for the first turn through the rotation.
“We’ll just have to see what lines up and what makes sense,” he said. “I’m not that far behind. That was the main plan.”
Working in deGrom’s favor in terms of big-picture season prep is that he is established. Unlike Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo — among other pitchers — deGrom’s spot in the rotation is secure. The Mets know what they’re getting, even if it took him a couple of extra weeks to get into his first game.
“He came out of it healthy,” Callaway said. “We know who Jacob deGrom is.”