PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — With first pitch of a major-league exhibition game against the Nationals about three hours and 800 feet away, the main event at Mets camp Monday occurred on a practice field. That’s where a motley crew of several hundred observers gathered to watch Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch for opposing sides in an intrasquad scrimmage of mostly minor-leaguers.
Fans, minor-leaguers, Fred Wilpon, reporters and most of the front office, including Brodie Van Wagenen and David Wright, lingered near Field 7 of the Mets’ First Data Field complex for the 90-minute duel. That setup occurred because the Mets didn’t want to have their top starters face the Nationals in the waning days of spring training, given that they will open the season in Washington on March 28-31.
“Why give them another look?” deGrom said.
Added pitching coach Dave Eiland, among the watchers: “If one hitter picked up one thing, that could be the one RBI that beats us.”
Instead, deGrom and Syndergaard faced Carlos Gomez, a few noteworthy prospects (including Andres Gimenez, Ronny Mauricio and Mark Vientos), veterans recently cut from big-league camp and a slew of others.
DeGrom, pitching to Wilson Ramos, gave up seven hits, one run and no walks in 6 1⁄3 innings. He struck out 12 and threw 96 pitches.
Syndergaard, pitching to Travis d’Arnaud, gave up five hits, four runs (three earned) and two walks in six innings. He struck out 12 and threw 99 pitches.
“I feel like it was very productive for me today,” said deGrom, echoing Syndergaard’s sentiment. “If I did throw a bad slider, I didn’t really care. I threw it right away again. You get in front of a crowd in a stadium, you kind of focus more on the result instead of the process. I think today I was really able to focus on where I wanted to throw those pitches and not really worry about the outcome.”
Gimenez and Ramos hit back-to-back home runs off Syndergaard in the second. A few innings later, Syndergaard issued his only walks, to Gimenez and Danny Espinosa.
When the inning ended immediately after Espinosa walked — the scrimmage was flexible in that way — Syndergaard showed frustration, tossing his glove from the mound, picking it up, walking to the dugout and slamming it to the ground.
“Not pleased with myself,” Syndergaard said. “Dropped my glove, but I was able to make an adjustment the last two innings and finish strong.”
For both pitchers, Monday was the final piece of the spring training stretching-out process. DeGrom’s last outing before Opening Day is scheduled to be Saturday in another minor-league game (instead of making the nearly four-hour round trip to face the Braves). Syndergaard will go Sunday, also likely on the back fields again (instead of against the Nationals). They plan to throw about 50 pitches apiece as a final tuneup.
When deGrom starts the season opener and Syndergaard gets the ball in the second game, it will have been more than two weeks since they pitched in an actual big-league game. Mickey Callaway isn’t sweating their level of preparation, though.
“I don’t think these guys ever go through the motions. When they’re out there, they’re working,” he said. “There’s good that comes from this and the way we’re approaching it. When you’re getting pitchers ready for spring, it’s the right way to go.”
Syndergaard said he feels “readier than ever,” and deGrom was about the same.
“I actually felt better later on than when I started the game,” deGrom said. “That’s definitely a plus. [Eiland] at the end said that was 96 pitches, and I really didn’t feel like it was that many.”