Mets reliever Nate Lavender at photo day.

Mets reliever Nate Lavender at photo day. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Here is a name to watch as the Mets’ bullpen evolves in 2024: Nate Lavender.

Already firmly on the radar of Mets decision-makers as a major-league option for this season, Lavender had a standout Grapefruit League debut Saturday afternoon, striking out the side in the eighth inning of the Mets' 10-5 loss to the Cardinals.

The weird part — in a modern baseball world obsessed with velocity — was that his hardest pitch of the outing was 92.7 mph. His fastball averaged 91.3.

For the 24-year-old lefthander, soft-tossing domination has become the norm.

“There’s will behind it,” Lavender said. “I like to say, if you throw 92 with a little doubt in there, it’s probably going to get hit pretty hard. If you throw 92 with some grit and some intention behind it, you’re going to be all right.”

Manager Carlos Mendoza said: “Deception. He’s got that fastball that seems like hitters are having a hard time picking up. Yeah, there were shadows there, but still. I’ve been hearing about this kid for a while now. He’s got deception and he attacks the strike zone.”

Lavender has steadily climbed through the farm system since the Mets drafted him in the 14th round in 2021. With Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Binghamton last year, he had a 2.98 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings.

A promotion to the majors is within reach. Mendoza said he has “been hearing a lot about Nate since I got here.”

“Definitely, we’re looking at him pretty closely,” he added. “This is a name that came up during the offseason and here he is in a good position. For him to go out there and have that type of inning is good.”

Follicle freedom

Mendoza, a Yankee for the past 18 seasons and thus banned from growing most facial hair, sported a goatee for his first exhibition game as Mets manager.

“It feels great,” he said. “My wife likes it. So that’s a good thing.”

Former Yankees Luis Severino and Harrison Bader also have grown thick beards.

Extra bases

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a member of the Mets’ board of directors, watched batting practice on the field and hung around with David Stearns and Steve Cohen, his political benefactor . . . Severino, the only surefire member of the Mets' rotation who has yet to face batters, will do so Sunday, he said . . . The Mets’ first home run of exhibition season came from catcher Hayden Senger, whom the club holds in high regard for his defense. He batted .188 in Binghamton last year . . . In the first inning, when Tylor Megill landed a 2-and-1 fastball for a strike, plate umpire Ramon De Jesus rung up batter Luken Baker as if it was strike three. As they say: It’s spring training for everybody.

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