New York Mets pitcher Tylor Megill during a spring training...

New York Mets pitcher Tylor Megill during a spring training workout, Friday Feb. 23, 2024 in Port St. Lucie FL. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — In theory, Tylor Megill’s fun new pitch, a splitter creatively branded as the “American spork,” can help him take his game to the next level and finally establish him as a full-time starting pitcher.

His split moves a lot, is hard to hit hard and — based on the data measured by the Mets — compares well with Kodai Senga’s version.

In reality, Megill barely threw it on Saturday because of his old bugaboo: an inability to throw strikes consistently.

His two-inning Grapefruit League debut in the Mets’ 10-5 loss to the Cardinals was not in itself super-meaningful on the surface. But it mattered because of the bigger-picture problem it hinted at.

If Megill cannot better locate his other pitches, this new one won’t matter much.

“If it’s in that 83-86 [mph] range, at the movement that he gets, it is a major-league pitch — in the computer,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said before Saturday’s game. “So let’s see how the hitters react to him.”

The Mets got only the briefest of glimpses of hitters reacting this time around. Of Megill’s 39 pitches, three were splitters, according to MLB’s pitch-tracking system.

The first two came in the first inning against Jordan Walker. Both were balls; one was a wild pitch. Megill wound up striking out Walker swinging with a slider on the ninth pitch of the at-bat.

“It wasn’t in the zone today, but it looks like it can be a really good pitch,” Walker said. “It looks so much like a fastball [but] just goes straight down. It’s tough to pick up as a hitter, especially when you got a guy throwing 95, 97 [mph] like he was. It’s going to be a really tough pitch to hit.”

The third and final splitter came in the second inning. Megill managed a called strike up in the zone to Victor Scott II.

And that was it.

“I was having problems finding the strike zone, so I was trying to get back to attacking it with the fastball,” said Megill, who struck out three and allowed one run and two hits. “That’s more of the majority [focus] right now, being ahead and being able to throw it . . . not when I’m behind, more so when I’m ahead.”

Part of the problem: Megill often was behind in the count. He threw a first-pitch ball to six of eight batters. Last year, he had similar problems, walking more than 10% of batters.

The key to Megill using his splitter effectively in the future is getting ahead in the count. Because of the nature of the pitch — which takes a steep dive as it approaches the plate — it is more of a swing-and-miss offering than an attempt to get a called strike. Therefore, Megill would prefer to throw it in, say, a 1-and-2 count, when he can spare a ball, than in, say, a 2-and-1 count, when another ball put would him in a bind.

“Gotta stay attacking hitters,” he said.

Megill toyed with a splitter at the end of last season, mostly in his between-starts work, after finding inspiration from Senga. Senga’s is nicknamed the “ghost fork,” so Megill’s is a play on that.

He practiced it a lot in the offseason, but using it in games is the real test.

“I’m not saying it’s Kodai’s, but it could be, based on the movement and velocity,” Hefner said.

And so Megill’s experiment will continue, in the potentially fraught context of him competing primarily with Joey Lucchesi and Jose Butto for the Mets’ rotation opening. He also is working in a new cutter, which Hefner said will juxtapose with the splitter — when he can manage to throw it.

Megill will have about five more exhibition outings to try all that out.

“We’ve done literally everything we can to set him up for success,” Hefner said. “Now it’s about him executing when the lights are on and there’s somebody with a different jersey on.”

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