Jacob deGrom is undeterred.
The Mets ace and winner of the last two National League Cy Young Awards said the back issue that forced him from a Tuesday intrasquad scrimmage after one inning is behind him and that he has every intention of being the club’s Opening Day starter against Atlanta at Citi Field on July 24.
“The plan is to be able to pitch Opening Day,” deGrom said Thursday.
DeGrom could pitch in the weekend exhibition series against the Yankees on Sunday and be lined up for the Opening Day start. Manager Luis Rojas, however, is sticking with the “day-to-day” assessment of the righthander.
Rojas wouldn’t commit to anything regarding deGrom: not an exhibition start, Opening Day or even what is planned for deGrom’s Friday workout.
“I heard he’s a very hopeful of [doing] that,” Rojas said when asked about pitching deGrom in the season opener. “Right now his status is day-to-day. Obviously, we got some good news: the MRI came back clean. He’s getting treatment. We’ll see how it goes today and how he feels tomorrow. . . . we have to get through this couple of days . . . and see how things respond from that.”
DeGrom believes the back tightness that sent a shiver through the organization may have been the result of sleeping in an awkward position. He explained that he felt “great” in a Sunday bullpen session and did nothing unusual on the team’s off day on Monday. But the back tightness was there from the moment he started to get ready to pitch Tuesday. On Thursday, he played catch without discomfort.
“It was out of the blue and it was from when I went to play catch [in the outfield] through the bullpen [warm-up] through the game – it just never loosened up,” deGrom said. “I came in and talked to [pitching coach Jeremy Hefner] and the training staff and was like, ‘Hey, I’m pretty tight today – I don’t know if it’s worth pushing through this.’ So I think it was just kind of a random thing as far as I woke up a little stiff.
“I would have been more concerned if I felt really good warming up in the bullpen [and] in the game, [on] one pitch, something happened.”
DeGrom also dealt with back discomfort before the starts to the 2016 and 2018 seasons. In each case there was a minor issue to resolve. What he felt on Tuesday was different.
“It had to be something I did – if I slept wrong, I’m not sure – but these past two days I felt really good,” he said.
DeGrom is essential if the Mets are to make the most of this truncated 60-game season. If he stays healthy, he could make 12-14 starts. For this reason, building up endurance and pitch counts is important for starting pitchers during this three-week buildup to the season. The Mets wanted to elevate deGrom to 100 pitches before the season’s start; throwing only one inning on Tuesday may slow his progression.
Asked about starting on Sunday against the Yankees, deGrom said, “If it was up to me, I’d like to get to somewhere around 60 to 65 [pitches] and then I’d feel comfortable with that. . . and then hopefully go to maybe that 85 mark on the first [regular season] game versus the 100 if I didn’t come out in the first the other day.”
DeGrom takes some comfort in knowing that the MRI showed no issues, but he never really was thinking what happened on Tuesday would keep him from his Opening Day assignment.
“I wasn’t too worried because I didn’t think it was serious,” deGrom said. “I think being around for a little bit, kind of knowing my body, it just didn’t feel right. If that [were] a regular game, I wouldn’t have said anything. But as far as it being a summer camp game, there was no reason to push through something and risk actually injuring myself.”