With camp halfway over, what's at top of Mets' to-do list?
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — With their 9-3 exhibition win Thursday night against the Marlins, the Mets hit a spring training milestone: the halfway point — yes, already.
Usually, these are the dog days of spring, when camp seems to be dragging on just a bit and the season — the games that count — still feels too far away. But this year, in a post-lockout schedule that has compressed the preseason to about half of its normal length, it is a sprint.
And the Mets still have lots to accomplish in the next week-plus through April 5, when they head to Washington, D.C., for Opening Day two days later.
“It’s flying,” Pete Alonso said. “This is new. Usually camp is seven-ish weeks, but this is really exciting. It’s exciting that the season’s right around the corner."
At the top of the to-do list: decide what to do with a handful of roster spots still up for grabs, specifically in the bullpen and outfield; figure out whether Taijuan Walker (right knee surgery), Starling Marte (left oblique soreness) and James McCann (back tightness) are ready for Opening Day; and stretch out the starting pitchers as much as possible.
Plus, of course, keep everybody else healthy. Buck Showalter, in his 21st spring training as a major-league manager and his first with the Mets, doesn’t ask for much except for that.
“Health. Health,” emphasized Showalter, who earlier in the week joked about running the other way when a member of the medical staff came to tell him suboptimal McCann news. “The rest of the stuff, we’re in line to get what we need to get.”
For Billy Eppler, in his first spring training as the Mets’ general manager, the meat of spring training is just about to start. The Mets have played a mere five Grapefruit League games, after all, and only two of those were started by pitchers expected to be in the season-opening rotation.
“Right now I’m still in the phase of learning and evaluating,” he said. “I tend to take the approach of that early portion of camp, that first third or that first half of camp, letting players kind of get into a rhythm, feel good.”
The trickiest part remains managing the starting pitchers, who are all over the place readiness-wise.
Max Scherzer leads the rotation, having already made a five-inning appearance. Chris Bassitt is right behind him at four — having gone one more than scheduled after he was effective and efficient in his first three frames during an intrasquad scrimmage Thursday.
Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco and Walker trail, so they might be at something less than full strength at the start of the regular season.
“I’m pretty sure everyone is going to be a little bit behind,” said Carrasco, who allowed five runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings against a lineup of mostly Mets minor-leaguers Thursday. “Not [just] us. The other 29 teams too. At some point we’re going to get there.”
Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner acknowledged a slight temptation to have his pitchers sneak in an extra inning here, another few pitches there for the sake of a better degree of preparedness come regular season. But he tries to take the long view.
“There may be guys where maybe they can only throw three or four innings to start the season, and we build them up to start the season — and that’s OK,” said Hefner, who isn’t more worried than normal about injuries. “We’re toeing that line of going as far as we can while [remembering] we have 162 games ahead of us. So we don’t want to do something to jeopardize these first two weeks, and then we don’t have someone at the end when we really need them."