TAMPA, Fla. — If Terry Collins had his way, the Royals would find out who’s pitching the second game of the season same as you.
By watching which Met trots through when the bullpen door opens April 5 at Kauffman Stadium.
We already know Matt Harvey’s getting the ball for Opening Night against the defending world champs. Collins announced that. But after the cars, the horses and one grand champion hog, the manager wants a turbulence-free finish to spring training.
To that end, Collins is keeping a lid on the rest of the rotation, other than to say Noah Syndergaard will pitch at some point in Game 2. Start? Maybe.
And forget about any heads-up on the team’s travel list, which had been posted the day before the Mets hit the road. No longer. Rather than stir up intrigue with any last-minute changes to the travel roster — due to injuries or whatever — the Mets are playing this final stretch close to the vest. Hope you enjoyed those Slingshot photos.
“We like our rotation,” Collins said before Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. “We know they’re all going to pitch around 32 times. When that is, I don’t care right now.”
Aside from Cespedes’ car-and-pony show, it’s been a relatively placid camp for the Mets. Remember Lunch-Gate from last March? Or the Harvey rehab carnival? The only speed bump has been Asdrubal Cabrera’s knee strain, and for now, that looks like a minor hiccup.
Compare that with their crosstown buddies. The Yankees spent the first two weeks of spring training bracing themselves for Rob Manfred’s ruling on Aroldis Chapman, then shifted into cruise control after absorbing the 30-game suspension. Despite the specter of domestic abuse, the Chapman affair evaporated rather quickly compared to last year’s A-Rod saga. And it’s not likely to be mentioned again until Chapman makes his May 9 return at Yankee Stadium.
An otherwise sleepy Yankees camp was briefly interrupted Saturday when Jacoby Ellsbury was nailed on his right wrist with a 91-mph pitch. Given Ellsbury’s fragile rep, and the vulnerable spot involved, the Yankees instantly had visions of a six-week DL stint. But Ellsbury somehow escaped a fracture, and could return by this weekend, as the Yankees narrowly dodged a bullet.
“Fortunately it wasn’t anything worse,” Ellsbury said Tuesday.
This time, sure. But that’s how tiny the margin for catastrophe can be inside of two weeks to go before Opening Day. Earlier Tuesday, the Dodgers learned Andre Ethier would be lost for up to 14 weeks because of a fractured shin. The initial X-rays didn’t show a break, but a follow-up bone scan days later revealed the damage.
Accidents happen, and these games have to be played. But the Mets, whose fortunes are married to the well-being of their rotation, have taken extraordinary steps to protect the young starters. Before finally sending out their pitchers to hit next week in Grapefruit League games, the Mets had them spend three days on simply dry swings, then graduate to tee-and-toss work.
They figured this conditioning method was the best way to avoid the dreaded oblique injuries that often come with aggressive overswinging, so they slowed down the hitting program for pitchers this year. Just another indication the Mets are again playing it super-safe with the rotation.
Though the innings won’t be rationed as tightly, the Mets will be mindful of everything else, like pitch counts and extra off days. Collins believes their blueprint worked last year — keeping the staff strong through October — and he intends to protect them from any additional noise this month by clamming up on the rotation order after Harvey for now.
“Because if we have to switch it up, it becomes a headline,” Collins said, “and we’re trying to stay out of the headlines right now.”
That’s not necessarily a new approach. Neither the Mets nor the Yankees want to be splashed on the back page for the wrong reasons. But it is unusual to see someone like Collins be so proactive about avoiding the media brushfires. Over in the other dugout, Joe Girardi stayed in character, refusing to even shed some light on the Yankees’ backup catcher situation.
“We’re just trying to create the least amount of drama possible,” Collins said. “Let’s just worry about playing and staying healthy.”