LAKELAND, Fla. — Jacob deGrom’s fastball was firing from his hand with such angry velocity Friday that he had to sneak a peek at the scoreboard. Multiple times, in order to confirm that what he suspected might be true, much to the amazement of the Tigers at Publix Field.
Still, the number surprised him. Did that really say 99 mph? On March 1?
“It’s probably high,” deGrom said, trying to suppress a smile. “But I feel good. I think mechanically, everything is kind of in line. I’m not really fighting myself and I actually feel smoother than I even did last year. I felt like it was coming out with less effort.”
The idea of deGrom matching last year’s historic season doesn’t seem rational. His Cy Young performance bordered on supernatural. But in only his second start of spring training, he delivered such easy heat that one wonders if there is another gear, a threshold he might be able to cross, even at age 30.
Against the Tigers, deGrom repeatedly touched 98 and 99, then later joked about lowering his ERA from 9.00 to 2.25 with three scoreless innings. Scheduled to throw 40 pitches, he struck out the side in the third, stranding Mikie Mahtook, who had a leadoff double, to finish with 39 pitches in the Mets’ 7-1 win over Detroit.
That was the only hit deGrom allowed, and it dropped in after clanging off the glove of leftfielder Tim Tebow, whose sprinting, diving attempt to make the catch was unsuccessful.
As much as Mickey Callaway was slightly nervous about deGrom throwing 97 mph in his first outing, he joked about being “uncomfortable” during Friday’s turn. But he also has come to expect that from the Mets’ ace, and he shrugged off this uptick in velocity because his delivery is so impossibly fluid.
“It’s the great use of his legs, the great use of his core when he throws,” Callaway said. “There’s just a coil in his core and he just unleashes the ball. It’s not a lot of arm. He’s got long arms, but he doesn’t use a lot of it. It just kind of whips through there because he uses his core and legs so well.”
That’s the key. Callaway, as a former pitching coach, is not seeing any evidence that deGrom is overthrowing or pushing himself too hard too soon, which would be an obvious reason for alarm. And deGrom denies that’s the case. He usually spends the early part of spring training working on his fastball, and this is just a routine stage in his preparation.
DeGrom dropped hints that he’d like to have Devin Mesoraco behind the plate for him, just as he was during Friday’s game. Last year, Mesoraco logged the lion’s share of deGrom’s workload (140 2⁄3 innings), with the two combining for a 1.60 ERA and .193 opponent’s batting average. It was no coincidence, and deGrom said his relationship with Wilson Ramos, who signed a two-year, $19 million contract in the offseason, is a work in progress.
“It’s early,” deGrom said. “Wilson’s learning me. I think the more we work together, the more comfortable we’ll be. Devin knows what I want to do. It’s just getting somebody back there and getting comfortable with them knowing what I want to do. Devin did a great job with me last year of really noticing what guys were trying to do against me and make the adjustment in-games.”
Mesoraco agreed that the two of them clicked after he was acquired from the Reds in the Matt Harvey trade, but he gave all the credit to deGrom, as good catchers always do.
“Whenever a catcher is looking out for the pitchers, that’s something that definitely registers to those guys,”said Mesoraco, who also homered Friday. “Me and Jake got in a good rhythm from the start. If I’m being honest, he’s a tough guy not to get in rhythm with. There’s nothing he can’t throw. There’s nothing he can’t do out there on the mound. We definitely hit it off and hopefully it’s something we can continue.”