PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Jacob deGrom appeared to stifle a laugh. As he fielded questions about his fastball, which has been a tick or two off in all three of his exhibition starts, the Mets righthander smiled.
“It’s spring training,” deGrom said after pitching four scoreless innings in the Mets’ 2-1 loss to the Marlins on Monday. “I mean, I’m not worried about it at all.”
For now, little concern seems to exist within the organization. Even though deGrom’s velocity has hovered in the range of 91 to 93 mph — he averaged 95 mph last season — his sagging velocity has yet to set off alarm bells.
“Everybody gets caught up because these guys are power pitchers,” manager Terry Collins said. “Some guys, it takes a little longer than others to get it back. So as long as he’s feeling good, as long as his back’s doing OK and there’s no other issues, I think when the bell rings, he’ll be fine.”
DeGrom, 27, insists that despite a few nicks during spring training — upper-leg soreness and mild stiffness in his back — his prized arm feels fine. And after his third Grapefruit League start, deGrom noted that he pitched on short rest.
He last pitched on Thursday, three days after his start was scratched because of back stiffness, which he attributed to a mattress that was too soft for his liking.
“I feel like it will come,” he said. “That one was on short rest, so I think getting everything back in line mechanics- wise, I think the velocity will be there.”
It’s not unusual for pitchers to build up arm strength and gain velocity as spring training rolls along, as deGrom seemed to do in 2015.
According to rival scouts, around this time last year, deGrom’s fastball velocity was lingering in the range of 92 to 95 mph. But it began closer to 92 to 93 mph, with only occasional readings in the high 90s.
Nevertheless, during the regular season, deGrom’s fastball velocity was relatively consistent in the mid-to-high 90s.
Despite his relative lack of velocity, deGrom said he has sensed progress with every outing. For the second straight game, he delivered a scoreless start, lowering his ERA to 0.90 in 10 innings.
“I’m throwing my off-speed for strikes when I want to,” deGrom said. “I think except for Dee Gordon, that first batter — I walked him with a changeup there — other than that, I’m pretty pleased with how I’m throwing the ball.”
One talent evaluator from another team noted that deGrom looked to be holding back somewhat, hesitant to go full tilt against a division rival.
“Looks like he’s taking it a bit easy today,” the evaluator said. “Don’t blame him if he’s going to see this team five or six times in the regular season.”
Aside from occasionally seeing the velocity readings on the scoreboard during his starts, deGrom said he barely pays attention.
“When there’s a fly ball hit, you see it,” he said. “But it’s not that big of a deal.”
Instead, deGrom pointed at the results, which revealed little in the way of velocity issues. He allowed four hits in his four innings but struck out five and walked one. He increased his pitch count to 59, keeping him on pace to build up for full games before Opening Day.
“I think the swings and misses tell you the most,” deGrom said. “It doesn’t matter what that gun says. If a guy’s late on a fastball, then you’re obviously doing something right. I think the object is to get outs, last time I checked.”