PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The Mets, a franchise historically rooted in great pitching, boast an impressive roll call of Opening Day starters.
Among those who have earned the distinction is a trio of Hall of Famers in Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Tom Seaver. Others include Johan Santana, Jerry Koosman and the electrifying Dwight Gooden.
Soon, Jacob deGrom could add his name to that distinguished list.
By early next week, the Mets should know who will take the ball on Opening Day in Washington against the Nationals. According to manager Terry Collins, the candidates include the veteran Bartolo Colon, lefthander Jonathon Niese and deGrom, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year.
"It's only one start," said Collins, downplaying the decision. "And you've got to make 32 of them."
Indeed, the assignment is largely ceremonial, just the first step in a 162-game marathon. Still, it carries the weight of tradition, which isn't lost upon those under consideration.
"It would be an honor," said deGrom, the fifth Mets player to win Rookie of the Year honors. "I'd like to get an Opening Day. I think anybody would in their career. But Bartolo has got the experience, and there's other guys that have more experience."
While Matt Harvey has looked like an ace this spring in his return from Tommy John surgery, the Mets have ruled him out since he missed all of last season in rehab. Zack Wheeler merited consideration until suffering an elbow injury that will keep him out for the season.
Now, with Opening Day less than three weeks away, the Mets must begin getting their pitchers on a regular routine. That means slotting them in the proper order with the first week of the season in mind.
Collins said the coaching staff is still talking through their options, though the choices have been narrowed to three.
Few have more experience than Colon, 41, who has started on Opening Day six times. He first earned the honor with the Indians in 2000 and followed up the next two seasons. He did the same with the Angels, starting three consecutive season openers beginning in 2004.
Nearly a decade has passed since the former Cy Young Award winner last earned the honor. But after several years lost to injury, Colon has enjoyed a strong second act.
Last season, his first with the Mets, Colon led the team in wins (15) and innings pitched (202 1/3).
Niese, 28, also has started on Opening Day, taking on the assignment in 2013 when Santana began the season on the disabled list.
But while Colon and Niese boast a deep track record, deGrom might best represent what the Mets hope is a new era in the franchise's history.
The organization has staked its future on a stable of young arms, and deGrom, 26, personifies that movement.
Last spring, he was lost in the shuffle, obscured by the Mets' deep pool of talented young pitchers. But when an injury created an opening early last summer, deGrom seized the opportunity.
Dominance became his calling card. In 22 starts, deGrom went 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA. This spring, he hasn't missed a beat, with a 2.25 ERA in three Grapefruit League appearances.
In his last outing on Tuesday, deGrom struck out six and retired 14 in a row before hitting his pitch limit. He has walked one batter in 11 innings.
With pinpoint command of a fastball that has been touching 96 mph, deGrom has spent the spring looking like he's ready for Opening Day.
"I haven't thought about it," said deGrom, who nonetheless acknowledged it would be an honor. "So whatever day they tell me, I'm completely fine with it."
While Collins refused to tip his hand, the manager didn't doubt deGrom's credentials.
"He'll do it one of these days," Collins said. "I don't know if he's going to do it this year. But he'll do it."
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