Mets starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws during the first inning...

Mets starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws during the first inning of a spring training game against the Astros on March 10 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky


As the Mets’ incumbent ace, there was never really any doubt that Max Scherzer would be the Opening Day starter. The only reason it was held up until Friday was to allow MLB to reveal every pitching matchup with a noon announcement.

Shortly afterward, Scherzer delivered a statement of his own, striking out 11 in six innings in the Mets’ 11-2 rout of the Rays at Tropicana Field. While most aces of Scherzer’s stature would treat their final spring training start as a tuneup, he went full throttle, firing 100 pitches at Max intensity.

“Now I know where I’m physically at to start the season,” Scherzer said.

That makes one Mets starter, anyway. We’ll also count Justin Verlander, as the three-time Cy Young Award winner made it through camp relatively unscathed, aside from getting drilled on the left calf by a line drive earlier this month. That was a minor ouchie, so as the Mets get ready to pack up for next Tuesday’s drive down I-95 to Miami, it’s ironic that the rotation’s two senior citizens — with a combined age of 78 — happen to be the healthiest.

The other members, aside from fill-in David Peterson, are coping with injuries of varying severity. Jose Quintana, signed to a two-year, $26 million contract, is out until at least July after bone graft surgery to repair a stress fracture in his rib. Kodai Senga, brought over from Japan on a five-year, $75 million deal, was forced to temporarily abandon his signature “ghost fork” because of finger tendinitis, caused in part by adjusting to MLB’s larger, heavier baseball. Carlos Carrasco, 36, had this week’s minor-league start skipped because of “elbow maintenance.”

Quintana’s situation is the only verified significant loss. He’s gone for a while, and the Mets have inserted Peterson into that spot, which for some reason will be the second start of the season in Miami. Senga expects the “ghost” to reappear when he pitches in Monday’s camp game, so the Mets will have their fingers crossed for that start. If all goes well, his debut will be April 2 against the Marlins.

Carrasco is penciled in for April 3 when the Mets open a series with the Brewers under the retractable dome at American Family Field. Of course, that hinges on how Carrasco survives Tuesday, when he’ll try another start against minor-leaguers.

The assumption is Senga and Carrasco will be fine, but as we’ve learned in the past, perfect scenarios are in short supply when it comes to injuries and the Mets. They also are taking an $86 million gamble this season that Scherzer and Verlander will stay healthy for a sizable portion of it.

In Scherzer’s case, he’s passed the first test, making it through spring training without any red flags — or nagging issues from last season’s stubborn oblique problem. That was a major concern for Scherzer going into the winter, and at age 38, staying in peak pitching condition doesn’t get any easier, that’s for sure.

But Scherzer made strengthening that oblique area a priority in the offseason, and there’s certainly no drop-off in his mound effectiveness. He finished with a 1.53 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts, striking out 25 with two walks in 17 2⁄3 innings.

“That’s where I was paying attention, how I ramp up with the pitch count and how my body responds to that,” Scherzer said. “I’ve ramped up, got to 100 pitches, and I feel great. Besides responding well, I’m not having any kind of lingering effect from [the oblique]. That’s the good news — that I’ve got my side built up and strong, like my arm as well.”

Tropicana Field was a fitting stage for Scherzer’s Grapefruit League finale, allowing him to cut loose in what technically counts as a major-league ballpark. The Rays pulled in 6,429 for Friday’s game, which is respectable for spring training, and about 75% of the crowd were Mets fans. Scherzer was greeted by a standing ovation behind the Mets’ dugout after striking out the side in the sixth inning. Manager Buck Showalter was among them in spirit, no doubt relieved that Scherzer cruised through intact.

“Max is always chasing another wrinkle,” Showalter said. “To give us and give him a chance. That’s why he’s so respected. Everything’s about winning. It’s a lot of fun shaking his hand after a good outing.”

Showalter hopes to be doing that quite a bit with Scherzer and Verlander, who now seem to be shouldering an even bigger load than the Mets expected when they put this rotation together a few months back.

Scherzer had to get the nod over Verlander for Opening Day in Miami. He was owed that respect, so choosing between the two was really no choice at all, and Showalter confirmed that Verlander will start the Citi Field opener on April 6 — also against the Marlins.

The Mets have a plan for filling in the rest of the rotation’s blanks, but Showalter said they’ll huddle again Saturday to review it, a discussion that probably will involve a few medical updates.

Fortunately for the Mets, the names of Scherzer and Verlander have mostly avoided those reports all spring.

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