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Mets to experiment with opener in Saturday's exhibition game

Joey Lucchesi of the Mets delivers a pitch

Joey Lucchesi of the Mets delivers a pitch against the Marlins during the second inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 17 in Jupiter, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Michael Reaves

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — For the Mets, their exhibition game Saturday against the Astros will be an experiment.

They are strongly considering using lefthander Joey Lucchesi as their No. 5 starter in place of Carlos Carrasco, who has a torn right hamstring and is expected to miss at least the first month of the season.

But they’re also mulling pairing Lucchesi with an opener, which is when a reliever pitches the first inning or two.

So, before they have to make a decision about doing this in a real game, they’re using Saturday as a trial run. Mostly, they want to see how Lucchesi — who has pitched out of the bullpen in the majors just once — handles the disrupted routine.

"We want to see how he responds," manager Luis Rojas said. "[Doing] it when he has one more outing in camp, we can get a good feel on how he feels out there and if he feels that there’s no difference."

Righthander Jacob Barnes, a primary candidate to win a spot in the bullpen, will start the game ahead of Lucchesi.

Rojas tasked pitching coach Jeremy Hefner with discussing the strategy with Lucchesi, and he said he wasn’t sure how that conversation went. When asked by a reporter this week about the possibility, Lucchesi was less than enthusiastic, saying in part: "I’m just going to pitch and do my thing. I can’t really control that. I don’t really think bad of it."

"Knowing his personality, he probably said, ‘Let’s go,’" Rojas said. "He’s got that personality, just where he’s pretty outgoing, not holding back. I know he wants to show the different things that he can do out on the field, so I don’t see him shying away from any strategy right now."

With spring training ending Monday, figuring out the back end of the rotation is the top item on the Mets’ roster-related to-do list. They need one more person behind Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker and David Peterson (though it is possible Peterson starts the third game, Rojas indicated, so that he and fellow lefthander Lucchesi don’t go in consecutive games).

Lucchesi is the leading option, though Rojas wasn’t ready to declare him the winner yet, preferring to see how Saturday goes. He also mentioned Mike Montgomery and Jerad Eickhoff, veterans on minor-league contracts.

On Wednesday, the Mets optioned righthander Jordan Yamamoto to the minors. He, too, had been competing for that fifth starter job, but the Mets hadn’t used him in a Grapefruit League game since March 13. When he pitched in a simulated game Tuesday, he got hit hard by Mets backups and minor-leaguers.

The Mets never have used an opener, which is like the opposite of a closer. The Rays invented the concept in 2018, with the goal of using a stronger pitcher (the reliever) against the opposing team’s best hitters. Then the starter — or so-called bulk guy — enters for at least a few innings, beginning with, ideally, the bottom half of the lineup.

Rojas said the "vast majority" of the Mets’ relievers could serve as openers.

"It takes a conversation," Rojas said. "We’ve asked Jacob [Barnes] and he feels OK."

New York Sports