David Peterson is competing for a spot in the Mets’ rotation — or so club decision-makers want him to believe.
Coming off an abbreviated rookie season in which he made the jump directly from Double-A and had a 3.44 ERA in 10 games (nine starts), Peterson would seem to be safely penciled into the back of the Mets’ rotation behind Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, whose two-year contract was made official Saturday night.
But instead of promising anything to the 25-year-old lefthander, the Mets are telling Peterson to work for it, for his own good. There shall be no complacency.
"We talked to him in the language of competing for a spot in the rotation. We have a lot of starters, there’s one that we just acquired [Walker], so there’s some depth," manager Luis Rojas said Saturday.
"The competition is always going to be a lot — here, among [the starters] and against other teams, because that’s what’s going to bring out the best. You’re going to exhaust everything that you work on during the offseason. So that’s been the language and that’s his demeanor. He’s great about it. I can’t wait to watch him compete out there."
If Peterson really, truly needs to win a job during spring training, he is competing against pitchers who otherwise would be considered the Mets’ depth starters: Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Yamamoto, Jerad Eickhoff and others.
In camp on a minor-league contract, Eickhoff, 30, drew praise from Rojas, who noted that he is "fully healthy." Eickhoff missed most of the past three seasons because of injuries. He was limited to 63 2⁄3 innings in 2018-19 and did not pitch in the majors last year.
When healthy, though, Eickhoff has proved to be a fine back-end starter, including a 4.07 ERA in 2016-17.
"It’s great to have a guy like Jerad here in camp, competing for a spot as well in the rotation," Rojas said. "It shows how deep we are with guys that can do that."
As for Peterson, this is his first spring training in which he realistically could snag an Opening Day job. At this time last year, before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the season, he was in camp but not really in the running for a major-league gig.
When the Mets lost a couple of starters, he wound up pitching the Mets’ fifth game of the year — in July — and impressed enough to stick around all season.
How is he approaching his opportunity to crack the rotation again?
"I’m excited to be back," Peterson said. "It’s good to be back with the guys, meet the new guys that are in here. It’s just fun to be back in camp. For me, I’m ready to get going. I want to get into games and then get this thing rolling toward the regular season.
"Pitching depth is always something good to have. For me, I want to come in here and do my thing and let the rest take care of itself. However I can help the team win, that’s what I’m here to do. I’m ready to go and excited to be back in camp and ready to compete and get after it."
Those answers are representative of Peterson’s public persona. He won’t be brash like Stroman, won’t routinely and calmly mention his intent to dominate like deGrom, won’t engage in Twitter squabbles like Noah Syndergaard.
Instead, Peterson is low-key and quiet. But that doesn’t mean he has nothing to say.
"You can think that he’s timid — he’s not," said Rojas, who regularly lauded Peterson’s poise last year. "He’s ready. You ask him something, he’s got the answer for you. He’s locked in. His focus is really good on everything. He prepares really well, he’s very respectful to his teammates, to the game, to himself, which is where it starts."
Rojas said he has spoken with Peterson about "three virtues," all of which he has: smarts, hunger and humbleness.
"When you’re humble, you’re open for more information," Rojas said. "You don’t think you know it all, don’t think you’re sailing or you made it already. That’s why he’s going to keep growing and keep getting better."