PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Sunday could be loosely described as a special occasion for Jacob deGrom, with his one inning in a 10-1 exhibition loss to an Astros B lineup representing the soft opening of his Cy Young defense. But if you want the true origin of his 2019 preparation, you have to go back to shortly after his historic 2018 season ended.
In October, a couple of weeks after he walked off the Citi Field mound to a standing ovation in his last start and a couple of weeks before he was named the National League Cy Young Award winner, deGrom started playing catch with his father/offseason throwing partner, Tony.
DeGrom wrestled with the decision to begin throwing so early after an eventful season and a career-high 217 innings, the second year in a row he reached the 200-inning threshold. Ultimately, a desire to follow the same timeline he did the previous offseason — which paid off in the form of a 1.70 ERA — won out.
“I just feel like when I play more catch and keep on moving, it seems to feel better come spring training,” said deGrom, who declined to talk about his contract extension negotiations. “I always talk about my mechanics. Last year, I feel like I got them close to where I wanted them. I work on that stuff all the time. So I think, playing catch early, in my mind I was like, keep doing this so I can go repeat what I did.”
It’s virtually impossible for a pitcher to maintain his mechanics from one season to the next, manager Mickey Callaway said. But the Mets were in favor of the decision to keep his arm active.
“You don’t want to throw all those stressful innings and then just cold turkey,” Callaway said. “You want to continue to make sure that arm is moving around, even when you’re taking some time off.”
DeGrom’s attempt to match up with 2018 is going well. In last year’s Grapefruit League debut, which was delayed until March 11 by a minor physical issue, he allowed two runs in 2 2⁄3 innings against Houston. This time, again facing the Astros, deGrom allowed one run in one inning. Consider it a reminder that spring training linescores don’t mean anything.
Tony Kemp led off with a line-drive double to right and scored on Tyler White’s two-out single. DeGrom struck out AJ Reed to end the inning and the righthander’s day.
The Mets opted to have him go one inning, not two, because Sunday was his fourth day since throwing live batting practice, deGrom said. There is plenty of time between now and the end of spring training to get him ready for Opening Day.
“That was our way of being kind of careful with it,” said deGrom, who is scheduled to start on Opening Day for the first time. “Felt I made a couple good pitches that they hit, a high fastball and then a down-and-away fastball, and they drove in that run. The thing was going out there and feeling good, trying to work on fastball command to both sides of the plate. Didn’t throw very much off-speed, but the main thing for me was establishing my fastball.”
Pitching to new starting catcher Wilson Ramos for the first time (excluding a bullpen session), deGrom threw 14 of 17 pitches for strikes. “I think Jacob really liked what he saw out of Wilson,” Callaway said.
All of that makes it a successful start to the exhibition season.
“The good thing is we see all the same things we saw in spring training early last year,” Callaway said. “He’s poised to go out there and dominate again.”