For the first time since March 11, the Mets are about to play real, live baseball games against a real, live opponent during a home-and-home exhibition series against the Yankees on Saturday night at Citi Field and Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.
The games won’t count in the standings, but they will serve as a final tuneup of sorts before the season opens late next week. And they will be a better approximation of regular-season contests than what the Mets have had in recent weeks (scrimmages against each other) and the nearly four months before that (nothing).
Normally, a club gets about a month of practice games before the season starts. During this pandemic-delayed season, the Mets have just two (with MLB allowing teams up to three games), and they’ll try to make the most of it.
“I’ll be a little more anxious, that’s for sure, just being on the baseball field and facing an opponent for the first time in a couple months,” J.D. Davis said.
Here are three things to look for this weekend:
1. Yoenis Cespedes probably will play both games. Manager Luis Rojas said the hope is Cespedes will be the designated hitter one night and play leftfield the other.
The defensive aspect of Cespedes’ game is behind his hitting and running, so getting game-speed practice in the outfield is important.
“Yankee Stadium has got a big gap, so moving around and taking a first step off the bat — if he can play left there and get challenged on a few plays — will say a lot to us,” Rojas said. “That’s something we haven’t seen yet in our games as much, him getting really challenged. It’s been more so from fungo drills, live fungoes and different drills like that. But we want to see it in games as well to get a little better feel for it. Every day he seems to move better.”
Coincidence: Cespedes’ most recent major-league game — two years ago Monday — was at Yankee Stadium. He returned from the disabled list, played as the DH, homered in a Mets win and after the game announced he might need surgery on both of his heels.
2. Rick Porcello and Corey Oswalt will start. In that order. Jacob deGrom had been penciled in for the Sunday game, but with a tight back slowing him down this week, the Mets are opting for a simulated game at Citi Field earlier in the day. Oswalt gets the ball instead.
3. The atmosphere will be better. Even in an exhibition, atmosphere matters. There is only so much to be gained from pitching and hitting against your own teammates during camp.
During intrasquad scrimmages, innings can last more than or fewer than three outs. Batters can hit in whatever order. Runners can be placed on bases. There are never mid-inning pitching changes.
These exhibitions will be more rigid, more real. And that is good, Rojas said.
“This is going to give us the actual game, where you gotta finish your inning, pitching changes, different things that we haven’t been able to simulate in camp,” he said. “It’ll be great watching the opposing uni come in and face us. I think it’ll give another taste of competition for the guys.”
Michael Wacha won’t pitch this weekend — he tossed five no-hit innings in a scrimmage Thursday — but he knows the value of a spring training norm as simple as facing batters wearing a different uniform.
“Pitching underneath the lights and going five innings, that’s great progressions,” Wacha said, referencing recent baby steps in Mets camp. “But whenever you got another team in the box, it’s a whole other level of determination, a whole other level of excitement.”