New Mets pitcher Kodai Senga, from Japan, spoke on Thursday about adjusting to life in a new country and on a new team. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca


The highly anticipated first glimpse of Kodai Senga throwing off a mound while wearing a Mets uniform took place at 10:40 a.m. Thursday at Clover Park. The bullpen session stretched for 52 pitches, watched intently by a couple of dozen media members standing only a few feet away, behind a short fence.

A number of fastballs sailed high and wide of the strike zone. A handful of “ghost forks” disappeared way too early, crashing into the turf well short of the plate.

We’re still very much in the workshop portion of spring training, and Senga is new to this major-league environment, so he was asked to rate his own performance.

His response required no translation.

“So-so,” he said in English.

Kudos to Senga for being honest. The Japanese star with the five-year, $75 million contract looked every bit like a pitcher trying to make adjustments, and you didn’t need TrackMan data to figure that out. (Of course, the Mets have that info too, as every inch of the bullpen mounds here is wired for that purpose.)

Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner periodically interrupted, computer tablet in hand, to consult Senga on his delivery, right down to pinpointing the pressure of his fingertips on the baseball.

“Like all guys at this level, they have such high expectations for themselves,” Hefner said. “I understand what he’s saying at that moment, but there’s a lot of things he’s adjusting to. Different climate, different country. I’m watching him and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is really good.’ But he’s been one of the best pitchers in the NPB [Nippon Professional Baseball] for a long time, so he knows where he needs to be.”

Nobody was under the impression that Senga was going to make this transition overnight. Getting acclimated to a larger, less grippy baseball and steeper mound is going to take some time. It’s just a matter of how long, and how successful Senga will be at mastering these variables. Based on what we witnessed and heard from him Thursday, he’s still in the early stages of that process.

“As of right now, I don’t feel like the ball had any effect on the so-so bullpen [session],” Senga said through his interpreter, Hiro Fujiwara. “It’s mostly just the steepness of the mound. Perhaps it’s the climate that’s helping with the tackiness of the ball, but as of right now, the ball isn’t bothering me at all.”

Hefner did suggest that Senga’s learning curve with the baseball was a contributing factor to spiking a few of those forkballs, but he was referring more to the pitcher’s release point, which can get out of whack in Senga’s case because of the unfamiliar mound.

Even with an interpreter, it can take a while to truly develop seamless communication in these relationships, and Senga’s adjustment goes both ways. The Mets are getting to know him as well, and that education began with the recruitment effort, continued through the physical and will be continuing for a while.

Speaking of that physical, Senga briefly addressed a New York Post report from earlier this month that stated the Mets got him at what seemed to be a below-market deal because of medical concerns. The Post didn’t specify the issue, but a source did express worry about Senga’s elbow during the pursuit by another MLB club.

Regardless, the Mets evidently found Senga’s risk manageable — despite blowing up their $315 million offer to Carlos Correa because of a suspect ankle — and the pitcher didn’t flat-out deny that something popped up somewhere.

“I think that the one thing that was really important when we decided to sign with the Mets was because of how they approached that situation and how much they had confidence in me,” Senga said. “So that was one reason I was really excited to sign here.”

When pressed on the nature of that “situation,” however, Senga politely declined to disclose any further details.

None of this should be all that surprising, given the mileage on many Japanese pitchers by the time they come to the U.S. Senga has piled up 1,340 innings in his 11 seasons. With that history, it would be unusual for an MRI to come up entirely clean on any part of a pitcher’s body, especially the elbow or shoulder.

For now, the Mets don’t appear to be giving him any special treatment from a medical standpoint. The focus is more on the mechanical aspects of getting him up to speed and making sure the elite skills he displayed in Japan translate over here. The Mets made a $75 million bet that it will happen. It’s not automatic, however.

The early positives? Senga was throwing an easy 96 mph during Thursday’s session (he’s reached triple digits in his career), and Hefner noted that he was better at repeating his delivery than in the previous bullpen session before the official start of camp. The slider was good, too.

The Mets will consider that progress, and Opening Day still is six weeks away.

“He’s trending,” Hefner said. “The plane is taking off.”

By Senga’s own admission, though, he’s still on the runway.

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