For Jeremy Hefner, the Mets’ rookie pitching coach, this new gig with his old team comes with a hell of a perk and a potentially dauting coaching task: Jacob deGrom, winner of consecutive NL Cy Young Awards, at the top of the rotation.
Hefner, who at 34 is just two years and three months older than deGrom, said his approach with the ace is the same as his approach with any other pitcher.
“I don’t think I coach him at all,” Hefner said. “We’re building a relationship where he’s comfortable with saying whatever he wants and I’m comfortable saying whatever I want, then we get to a really good spot.
“They’re all human beings who have a heartbeat and are imperfect. He’s not going to be perfect every time out, but his average is higher than other people’s averages. So just trying to get him to stay at his average is the key.”
Behind deGrom, the Mets have more question marks than in years past, especially after learning Wednesday that Marcus Stroman will miss time with a torn left calf muscle.
Filling out the rotation are Steven Matz, who has overcome early-career injuries to make 30 starts in each of the past two seasons; offseason free-agent additions Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, who have dealt with injuries and/or ineffectiveness in recent seasons; and a No. 5 starter to be decided.
During the coronavirus delay, Noah Syndergaard had Tommy John surgery, so he won’t pitch this year.
That means, relative to the Mets’ great second half in 2019, Porcello, Wacha and somebody else are replacing Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Stroman (at least temporarily).
The Mets’ other options include Erasmo Ramirez, Corey Oswalt and David Peterson. They needed just eight starts from non-primary starters last season but knew that degree of health is uncommon, even in a 60-game season.
It will be up to Hefner to help guide deGrom and the others through it.
“I’m just trying to get out of the way,” Hefner said. “I’ll learn and I’ll get out of the way and they go do their thing. They don’t need a whole lot. They know what they do well, they’re going to go out and attack hitters and they’re going to lead us to a bunch of wins. So that’s what I expect out of them.”