PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Jacob deGrom still feels good, still has not faced hitters and still is increasingly unlikely to be ready for the first game of the season.
On Sunday, deGrom completed a 40-pitch bullpen session but did not throw live batting practice, which was the apparently miscommunicated plan from two days earlier.
The next step is to pitch in a simulated game — facing batters in a controlled environment — on Tuesday.
“The plan is to not do anything dumb,” said deGrom, who has not pitched in a Grapefruit League game yet because of a brief bout of lower-back stiffness.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland vigorously concurred. He said deGrom will need to face hitters five times and build up to about 90 pitches before seeing regular-season action. That is his standard for any starting pitcher. No exceptions, especially for an arm as important as deGrom’s.
“With Jacob deGrom, we will not make an exception. That’s stupid,” Eiland said. “We’re not going to be careless. We’re not going to be careless just so he can pitch Opening Day.
“If it falls to where he can, he will, because he earned it. He deserves that start. But we’re not going to push the envelope and be careless and he starts Opening Day and doesn’t start again till June. That would be pretty ignorant on our part. So we’re not going to do that.”
DeGrom was surprised to show up Sunday and see he was scheduled for another bullpen session. On Friday, after successfully throwing a 20-pitch session, he and manager Mickey Callaway indicated the next step would be live BP.
“I honestly did not know what I was doing today,” deGrom said. “I thought I would probably face batters, but the plan was to I guess throw a bullpen and then face batters [another day].”
Said Eiland: “It was never in the [plan] to face hitters today. I don’t know how that got lost in translation.”
Either way, the Mets have not formally ruled out deGrom for Opening Day, but he is running out of time.
If they count Tuesday as one of five preseason outings — “We’ll see what he gets out of it,” Eiland said — deGrom would have time on an every-five-days schedule to make four more Grapefruit and/or minor- league starts before the Mets leave camp March 26. But that would not leave him enough days of rest before March 29 against the Cardinals at Citi Field.
DeGrom, who despite four standout seasons has never gotten the ball on Day One, understands the reality.
“I would definitely like to start Opening Day, but that’s out of my control. It’s up to them and if I can get ready in time,” he said. “If I don’t start Opening Day, it’s not the end of the world. The goal is to go out there and make every start once the season starts. Whether it’s Opening Day that I start or it’s the third, fourth, fifth day. The goal is to make every one of them.”
Noah Syndergaard, who has cruised through his first two exhibition outings, would become the primary option for Opening Day, a game no more important than any other that nonetheless gets more attention simply because it’s the first one.
That deGrom felt no discomfort in his back Sunday was more important than the rotation order in the season’s opening days. “That was a good sign,” Eiland said. “That was more important than anything. It was good, quality work. He wasn’t just out there testing his back. He was getting some good work in.”