PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — When dozens of fans wandered over to a First Data Field backfield late Tuesday morning, they did so to get a glimpse of the Mets’ celebrity minor leaguer, Tim Tebow, who had rubbed up a bat and was taking practice hacks.
Tebow, though, was merely playing a supporting role, so those fans stumbled upon the workout’s featured production: righthander Jacob deGrom’s simulated game, a 30-pitch outing against Tebow, Juan Lagares and Dominic Smith.
It was the first of a likely five outings against batters as deGrom races the calendar to be ready for the season’s opening games.
“He wasn’t holding anything back,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “He wasn’t protecting anything or making adjustments to his delivery to protect his back. So it’s all systems go right now.”
DeGrom, who missed a few days with lower back tightness, is considered healthy and stretching out like any other starter, albeit behind his peers’ schedules.
“Unless he comes in tomorrow not feeling well,” Eiland said. “None of us anticipate that.”
Eiland said deGrom will next pitch probably Sunday, though Saturday is also a possibility. Either way, there does not appear to be enough time for deGrom to get ready to pitch Opening Day, though the Mets have not formally named their Game 1 starter.
DeGrom’s session drew a crowd, in addition to the Tebow watchers: chairman/CEO Fred Wilpon, special assistants to the GM Terry Collins and Omar Minaya, Eiland and others.
Tebow, Lagares and Smith did not fare particularly well. Lagares had the only hard contact, a ground ball to about where the shortstop would have been standing in a normal game. All three batters are also playing catch-up in terms of at-bats and game action after physical setbacks.
“My first pitch to Lagares was a well-located fastball, and he said something about it,” deGrom said. “That’s definitely a good sign.”
DeGrom threw 15 pitches, sat in a dugout for a few minutes (simulating the Mets’ offensive half-inning), then threw another 15 pitches in a second pseudo-inning.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a live BP or a game,” deGrom said. “When somebody steps in there, the adrenaline starts running. It’s different than throwing a bullpen. Definitely good to have hitters in there and throw with them in there and not feel anything.”
The Mets have to decide when deGrom will pitch again. Sunday is a home game against the Astros and would establish deGrom’s normal five-day routine. Saturday, which would be a wee more aggressive, would also require a three-hour, cross-state bus ride to Tampa to face the Yankees.
Would those logistics be factored in when it comes to handling a guy who had a stiff back? Eiland joked that accommodations could be made.
“Of course,” Eiland said. “He can go the night before. He can stay at my place. I’ll drive him to my house, about 20 minutes north of that stadium. I’ll make sure he gets a good dinner. My wife will cook for him. He can even use my bed, and my wife and I will go sleep somewhere else and we’ll make sure he’s comfortable. If we decide that he’s going to pitch on his fourth day.”
DeGrom doesn’t care about the first start as much as he does the last.
“It would definitely be an honor [to pitch Opening Day], but like I said before, if we don’t feel like I can get built up to it, we’re not going to push anything,” deGrom said. “When I get out there, I want to be able to make all 32 starts, 33, however it is. The goal is to be in the World Series. There are some more starts there.”